Friday, October 7, 2011

The Death of Anwar al-Awlaki

The President of the United States ordered an American citizen killed last week.  Without a trial.  Judge, jury and executioner, all in one fell swoop.  That should bother you.  It certainly bothers me.

Oh, Mr. al-Awlaki was probably a bad guy, make no mistake about it, but we're better than that.  We don't jettison the Constitution because it's a bit inconvenient.

Well, actually, we did jettison the Constitution.  I should have said, "We mustn't jettison the Constitution because it's a bit inconvenient."

Here are 3 observations from a week ago that are so much better than what I could have written:

1.  The Rude Pundit:

Sometimes there's cases where the liberal rubber hits reality road and you gotta decide whether your beliefs are beliefs or just conveniences based on circumstances and filled with holes. See, if you believe in due process, if you believe in innocent until proven guilty, if you believe in trials, if you believe in the Constitution, then you have to believe that all of us have those rights. And that includes presumptive terrorists, like Anwar al-Awlaki, whose death by U.S. drone attack is being danced over by the supposed upholders of the very laws his murder violates.

2.  Glenn Greenwald:

When Awlaki's father sought a court order barring Obama from killing his son, the DOJ argued, among other things, that such decisions were "state secrets" and thus beyond the scrutiny of the courts.  He was simply ordered killed by the President: his judge, jury and executioner. 

What's most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar ("No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law"), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What's most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government's new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government.  Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President's ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki -- including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry's execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists -- criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed.

While everyone's talking about having "got" this latest bogeyman, I just wanted to remind folks the kind of language the Administration used to explain why it could kill an American citizen with no due process.
"Accordingly, although it would not be appropriate to make a comprehensive statement as to the circumstances in which he might lawfully do so, it is sufficient to note that, consistent with the AUMF, and other applicable law, including the inherent right to self-defense, the President is authorized to use necessary and appropriate force against AQAP operational leaders, in compliance with applicable domestic and international legal requirements, including the laws of war."
As to the actual evidence that Anwar al-Awlaki was a terrorist? That's a state secret.

The bottom line is we need to adhere to a simple rule that even kids on the playground can understand: you don't get to have 2 sets of laws, one for the the baddest of the bad, wherein we can take shortcuts just because it's expedient, and another set for the rest of us.

The beauty of the Constitution is that it is pretty agnostic: the law of the land applies even to those who would spit upon it.  We are better than that.


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