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I'm sure this topic's been broached many times on DKos, but I'm fairly new here. The recent killing of al Qaeda number two Abu Yahya al-Libi has caused some disagreement in the diaries and comments sections, mainly about the role of unmanned drones in the War on Terror. I've noticed that those opposed to the strikes often assert that they create more terrorists than they kill. This raises an interesting question that has divided much of the American left since the war's beginning: should the U.S. treat al Qaeda as a warring military organization or as an international crime syndicate?

There are, of course, pros and cons to both sides of this argument. For those who advocate treating AQ as enemies in a war, the reasoning is simple: al Qaeda is an organization with military-grade weaponry, equipment, and training facilities that has carried out strategic attacks on U.S. interests, both military and civilian. Their lack of borders, sovereignty, and international recognition do not necessarily make them civilians, and their own assertion that they are, indeed, at war with the United States and its allies seems to give further legitimacy to this argument.

Those who feel al Qaeda should be handled as criminals rather than combatants also make a compelling case. They point out that al Qaeda is ill-defined; for example, are regional affiliates part of this "war?" What about lone wolves who credit AQ for inspiration? This slippery slope, they say, could lead to the erosion of civil liberties at home and abroad. Further, how can a war be waged between a country and a loosely affiliated group of international militants? If declaring war on the U.S. government and possessing military grade equipment are all it take to be considered combatants, then why aren't domestic right-wing militia members automatically shipped off to Gitmo? If a terrorist attack is an act of war, then why is it also a federal crime, and why was Timothy McVeigh afforded a trial?

Both sides present reasonable arguments that merit close examination. The negative (from a progressive viewpoint) consequences of viewing al Qaeda as an enemy military include, but are not limited to:

*The legitimacy of detainment facilities like Guantanamo Bay, with the understanding that the Geneva Conventions' rules are followed.

*The legality of drone strikes, so long as they are targeting AQ members who pose a threat to the U.S.

*The legality of killing American citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki, who willingly join this warring military to fight against the U.S.

*The violation of other nations' sovereignty with drone attacks and special operations raids.

That's not to say that the other side doesn't have any drawbacks either. For instance, if we are to suppose that AQ constitutes not an enemy military but a network of civilian criminals:

*The killing of Osama bin Laden was most likely illegal, as was the violation of Pakistani sovereignty that it resulted from.

*AQ members and affiliates cannot be targeted for killings by either drones or soldiers, making it necessary to send law enforcement personnel into extremely dangerous situations where they may not even have jurisdiction.

*The U.S. may be at greater risk of terror attacks if a beleaguered AQ is given the opportunity to rebuild itself, as a halt to military actions against it would likely provide.

By no means are these the only arguments made for either side or the only drawbacks of each. I've barely touched on the 5th Amendment implications of both, or the Obama administration's rather ridiculous attempt to have it both ways in the case of Awlaki ("internal deliberations within the executive branch satisfied the 5th Amendment requirements..." WTF? If the 5th Amendment applied, then no, the president and his staff talking about the matter did not come close to satisfying it. If Awlaki was truly a combatant in a war, then no 5th Amendment requirements should have applied. But I digress...). But I would like to see Kossacks views on this issue and their justifications.


Should the U.S. treat its fight against al Qaeda as a war or a law enforcement operation?

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