The First Casualty in War

An old saying goes “Truth is the first casualty in war.” I’m not so sure. I think I’ve got a contender for the first casualty that’s either ahead of truth or tied with truth: rule of law.

A basic rule of law principle is that governments don’t violate the rights of innocent people. But various governments around the world, including the U.S. government, seem to be relishing the chance to go after people in the Soviet Union who are thought to support Putin, even if they have violated no law.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Biden said:

Tonight, I say to the Russian oligarchs and the corrupt leaders who bilked billions of dollars off this violent regime: no more.

The United States Department of Justice is assembling a dedicated task force to go after the crimes of the Russian oligarchs.

We’re joining with European allies to find and seize their yachts, their luxury apartments, their private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.

Hold on. If you’re going after crimes, you should show that there is a crime before you take what you claim are the proceeds of the crime. Make your charges, take them to court, and then make your case. Until then, hands off their gains.

Note 1: It looks as if the feds are going to use civil asset forfeiture to go after the assets. That’s just as contrary to rule of law, properly understood, for foreigners as it is for the fed’s many domestic victims. I give money to the Institute for Justice due, in part, to the fact that they fight back against asset forfeiture.

Note 2: Calling them “oligarchs” proves nothing.

The picture above is of a yacht owned by a company linked to Igor Sechin and seized by the French government.


I see that Tyler Cowen agrees with me. Good for him.