‘Why Should the State Have the Right To Determine Unilaterally Who Is A Terrorist?’

The people being targeted in the Obama administration’s drone war are “suspects” who deserve due process, renowned linguist and political radical Noam Chomsky said during a talk at Google this month.

There’s a debate in the United States, Chomsky said, about the legitimacy of President Obama unilaterally targeting American citizens, like Anwar al-Awlaki, for assassination by drone. And “there’s some talk about collateral damage – you know, what about the people that are just standing around that get killed? Well, yeah, that’s bad. But what about the people you’re aiming at? They’re suspects.”

“The core concept developed in the Magna Carta was what we call ‘presumption of innocence,'” Chomsky explained. “What it stated is that a free man cannot be subjected to state punishment without due process, without trial by a jury of peers.”

“The drone campaign eliminates presumption of innocence,” Chomsky argued. “The way it works is, Obama and his advisers get together Tuesday morning and decide who they’re going to kill that day – the concept ‘guilty’ means, ‘Obama decided to murder you.'”

The fundamental question, according to Chomsky is: “Why should the state have the right to determine unilaterally who is a terrorist? Do they have that right? No, they don’t. Do they have the right to murder people who they put on the terrorist list? No, they don’t.”

Chomsky also mentioned the suit he and several others are involved in that challenges the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes provisions that “extend the principle of indefinite detention of suspects…and it is written in such a way that it could include American citizens, [although] it’s not explicit.”

Chomsky said he thinks the case is actually “way too narrow,” since it focuses only on the question of whether this principle of indefinite detention for suspects extends to U.S. citizens.

“There should never be such a thing as indefinite detention. It’s criminal. And the idea of supporting enemies is so meaningless that such a concept shouldn’t exist in law.”

You can view this section of the talk below:

Anthony Gregory wrote a wonderful book on this subject called The Power of Habeas Corpus in America: From the King’s Prerogative to the War on TerrorDavid S. D’Amato wrote an excellent review for the Future of Freedom Foundation here.

10 thoughts on “‘Why Should the State Have the Right To Determine Unilaterally Who Is A Terrorist?’”

  1. And in contrast to US executive fiat terrorist designation, if one was to go by an objective standard, the US itself would be guilty, in one case convicted of sponsoring terrorism in Nicaragua by the world court. Is every US taxpayer then a sponsor of terrorism by that measure?

  2. Not at all disagreeing with the message. However, the messenger castigates the Pentagon in public and quietly takes its money in private. Make money from the war machine at the same time become lauded for criticizing it. Nice.

    1. It's not the Pentagon's money. It's the taxpayer's money. Whether it comes to Chomsky via the Pentagon or through the National Science Foundation is irrelevant, except that it shows some courage for criticizing the hand that is handing out his grant money. Not a lot, but it shows independence of thought.

      Beyond that, what's relevant ethically is whether he takes the Pentagon's money and uses it to do something that violates his own stated principles. If he were assisting in some act that he condemns, then it would be hypocritical. But he's not–he's just doing linguistics research, which is not inherently contradicting any of Chomsky's principles.

  3. Don't shoot the messenger. Bush/Obama have turned the US into a Banana Republic. The Secretary of Defense couldn't be reached by phone so no intercepting planes went up. Niels Harrit, Uni of Copenhagen, and 8 more scientists have proven that nano-thermite was used. Did OBL have nano-thermite ? Is it true that all but 5 are identified ? OK, the 5 are terrorists then. But they were 19, weren't they ? But of course, planes can be flown by remote control.
    With Lockheed and the Pentagon it's not only the money, they really think they can limit casualties to 1-3 % and avoid Nuclear Winter by the design of the warheads on Minuteman-3 and Trident-2 and attacking missile silos only. That's the reason for NAVSTAR -now GPS- and the missiles in Eastern Europe and on 32 ships in the Mediterranean Sea. US Navy can track and destroy all enemy submarines simultaneously according to missile engineer Bob Aldridge -www.plrc.org Suicidal bloody fools in the Pentagon !

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