Belmont Club

What Difference Does It Make?

The Hill sheds light on the nagging problem of why, despite a presidential vow to bring the Benghazi consulate attackers to justice, they are still free as birds.

The U.S. military cannot hunt down and kill people responsible for the deadly 2012 attack on an American compound in Benghazi, Libya, as long as the terrorists are not officially deemed members or affiliates of al Qaeda, newly declassified transcripts from congressional hearings show.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey in testimony on Oct. 10 said the Pentagon’s hands are tied because the groups involved are not covered by the Authorization for Use of Military Force. The AUMF law allows U.S. attacks anywhere in the world only on al Qaeda and “associated forces.”

“The individuals related in the Benghazi attack, those that we believe were either participants or leadership of it, are not ‘authorized use of military force,’ ” Gen. Dempsey told the House Armed Services Committee in his classified testimony during a closed hearing.

The transcript was released on Monday.

“In other words, they don’t fall under the AUMF authorized by the Congress of the United States. So we would not have the capacity to simply find them and kill them either with a remotely-piloted aircraft or with an assault on the ground,” Dempsey said.

In other words, you have to treat the attackers as if they were motivated by a video. What a difference a labeling makes.

The militarization of U.S. domestic law enforcement spurred some Internet wag to post the rhetorical picture below. When did cops become an occupying army? But the question can be flipped. Since when did the Department of National Defense start acting like the Department of Justice?

But if you're a terrorist it's the other way around

But if you’re a terrorist it’s the other way around

Since when? Since lawfare was invented. It’s a marvelous artifice.  It came in two phases. First, war was declared on an array variable [drugs, terror, poverty …]; and second, it was  determined that all wars against that variable would henceforth become law enforcement problems. We are pushing elements into the array. We never pop them. Global Warming almost got pushed into the array. Samantha Power was advocating for multiple inserts into this array. Soon America will be at war with lots and lots of things, but not in a way that a World War 2 historian would recognize.

The people who prosecute that war will be military-like cops or a cop-like military. Dempsey’s testimony illustrates the unintended effect of “lawfare.” Not only has justice become militarized, war has now become a matter for the courts. The reversal, if not complete, is now well underway. The enemy is who?

Recently President Obama announced his policy to rein in the NSA — which is part of the Department of Defense — at a speech at the Justice Department. Presumably some NSA general has to ask the court to request a private communications company to provide information to be used in a national defense function. Got a problem with the NSA? Why, get Sunstein and Podesta to fix it. It is yet another illustration of the breakdown in the what used to be the wall between war and law enforcement. They are increasingly one and the same.

What could go wrong?

Once this principle is accepted, it makes perfect sense that the U.S. military can’t go after people who attacked sovereign American territory until the lawyers say so.  And the lawyers have to go by labels. And who prints the label?

“What difference does it make?” Hillary Clinton asked in reference to a question about who the Benghazi attackers were. It makes a lot of difference apparently. And she — a lawyer — probably knew it. There was a reason the administration insisted — and the New York Times continues to insist — that the attackers were motivated by an obscure video produced in Los Angeles. They wanted to control the label.

By refusing to label the attackers as terrorists and tagging them instead as mere criminals or perhaps justifiably outraged Muslims, the administration was really not obligated to do anything much about the attack. They could just move on to whatever deal their diplomacy anticipated. And so perhaps the Benghazi incident will end according to the law, though not in accordance with justice.

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