Sunday, October 2, 2011

Judge, Jury, and Executioner

Yesterday the United States killed an American citizen. Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen with alleged ties to Al Qaeda who had fled the United States and was hiding in Yemen. He was killed by a drone attack yesterday after being targeted under an assassination program maintained by the Obama administration that I have mentioned in a previous post and that does not exempt U.S. citizens from being targeted. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees that no American, "shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." This means a trial in which the government proves its case against you to a jury of your peers beyond a reasonable doubt. Awlaki was an American citizen and therefore, under the law, supposedly protected by the Fifth Amendment. But Awlaki was killed by the U.S. government without having formal charges leveled, without having a trial, without evidence being presented, and without an impartial judge and jury weighing evidence and deciding on his guilt. Although the fact that Awlaki has been in Yemen, a country with which we have no extradition treaty, and has no plans to return to the United States changes circumstances from those of an American citizen living within U.S. borders, he was still an American citizen and when asked by Jake Tapper, the administration made no effort to share publicly even a shred of evidence they have against Awlaki. In the other words, the administration simply decided he was a threat and eliminated him. If they had credible evidence that Awlaki represented a threat to the U.S., or committed crimes against the U.S., why not share with the American people some of the evidence for this action or publicly set standards for when targeted assassination of American citizens overseas can be resorted to? There is no evidence that Awlaki met any of the legal criteria for forfeiture of his citizenship by publicly swearing allegiance to a foreign government or joining a foreign military. In the age of global terrorism, this definition of forfeiture may need to be revisited to include joining terrorist organizations opposed to the United States, but to date they have not. If the United States government can secretly decide that Awlaki, an American citizen living overseas and still entitled to Constitutional protections whether we like it or not, is a threat and can take his life without making public any evidence for doing so or any standards by which such targeted assassinations can take place, what is to stop it from doing this to any American citizen overseas?

Awlaki's assassination was discussed on the Fox News Sunday round table this morning. All of the panelists agreed with the administration's action. However, Juan Williams did at least ask that the administration put forth publicly some sort of standards or criteria for when targeted assassinations will be used. In his rebuttal to Mr. Williams' reticence, Britt Hume labeled Awlaki an, "enemy combatant," with, "no rights," who has joined an organization with which we have de facto, "declared war."

Nothing could be more absurd than Mr. Hume's comments. The last time the United States declared war on anyone it was Germany and Japan in 1941. There is no declaration of war to justify the government using wartime measures against U.S. citizens. Awlaki also was never accused of being a combatant and participating personally in acts of violence against the U.S. and he was not killed on a battlefield. He was accused of inciting others to violence against the U.S. His crime was treason, but even accused traitors are entitled to a trial and due process of law.

Anwar al-Awlaki was a bad man who probably got what he deserved. But, his execution sets a precedent that threatens the liberty of American citizens for generations to come. If we accept that our government can kill an American citizen overseas without due process of law or without establishing some sort of objective criteria to apply to when such extreme measures are warranted and sharing publicly with the American people some of the evidence against that person, then what is to stop our government from doing that to any of us?


Robert said...

This is a test of the citizens of the US. If this rule is allowed to stand, we deserve the consequences. If we don't stop this illegal assassination policy, we will suffer and freedom will suffer. The last president who authorized murdering US citizens was Lincoln. Research how many newspaper editors and politicians Lincoln had imprisoned for criticizing his war against the South. Is that coming next? Will it soon be illegal to criticize the State's policies and wars? If it is permitted to murder US citizens in the "War On Terror," will it be permitted to torture them? Surely killing is far worse than torture, so why not?

Publius said...

At least the Civil War was self-limited. At some point, it was going to end and the "need" for such measures would be gone. The "war on terror" however, is never ending and infringements on liberty in its name will be never ending as well.