In its March 8, 2010 edition, the Weekly Standardhas a long article about the "Drone Wars" that praises the use of Predator drones for targeted assassinations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Its author, Kenneth Anderson, boldly states, "Targeted killings of terrorists, including by Predators and even when the targets are American citizens, are a lawful practice."
Translation: If the U.S. government believes you to be a terrorist, you have forfeited all of your Constitutional as well as your human rights, most notably your right to live. In the name of U.S. "self-defense," according to Mr. Anderson, our government has not only the legal right to kill you, but a solemn duty to do so.
Adopting this line of thinking, our predator drones become equivalent to those vigilante cops in Magnum Force (1973), the second Dirty Harry movie starring Clint Eastwood. The plot: A small band of police motor about San Francisco, assassinating known criminals, from mobsters to pimps, justifying their executions by pointing to the failures of the criminal justice system, and applauding themselves as "the first generation that's learned to fight back."
They assume "Dirty Harry" Callahan will want to join their ranks, but Harry turns them down. As tough as the streets are, as compromised as the system is, Harry stands for upholding the law. When you start targeting people for assassination, Harry notes, innocent people inevitably get killed, like Charlie McCoy, another motorcycle cop and old friend of Harry's, who is shot and killed by one of the vigilante cops simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Moreover, vigilante violence simply begets more violence, Harry notes, until killing becomes so easy that it's a first resort for even minor infractions.
The lesson of Magnum Force was clear. As terrifying as violent criminals could be, one was not justified in becoming judge, jury, and executioner, even if, or especially if, you were sworn to protect the innocent, as "Dirty Harry" was.
How our world has changed. At least according to the Weekly Standard, Harry's scruples about the law, about due process, about protecting the lives of innocents, as well as his concerns about the slippery slope of murderous violence, are today signs of weak-willed appeasers.
In the hyper-aggressive (and hyper-scared) pages of the Weekly Standard, yesterday's "Dirty Harry" is today's bleeding heart liberal. And the murderous motorcycle cops with their magnums? They're the new heroes.
Professor Astore currently teaches History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA. He writes regularly for TomDispatch.com and can be reached at email@example.com.