Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss: Extrajudicial Execution of an American Citizen

Posted: October 4, 2011 in Political and Social Issues
Tags: , , , , ,

Imam Anwar al-Awlaki

The systematic stripping of basic protections and constant, shameless circumventing of the US Constitution in the name of the intentionally-vague ‘War on Terror’ reached a new low with the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki by US forces in Yemen. This headline doesn’t scream ‘destruction of basic safeguards granted by the Constitution’ except for one detail: Mr. Awlaki was a citizen of the United States who was not only denied a trial, but who had no charges filed against him. Had he been killed while violently resisting arrest this would be an entirely different beast. However, the US government never had any intention of taking our countryman alive, as evidenced by the nature of his execution, (airstrike), and the inclusion last year of his name on a list of men targeted for assassination by the US government.

There do exist slim criteria for the execution of a US citizen without due process. The government must demonstrate conclusively that targeting the citizen for assassination is the only possible means of deterring some attack or greater loss of life. It helps a lot if the case in question takes place in the context of warfare. When Awlaki’s father challenged the Obama administration in court seeking to have his American son’s name removed from a list of targets for assassination, however, the DOJ claimed its reasoning for targeting him was a matter of state secrecy and thus above judicial review. The court dutifully swallowed this and sent the plaintiff on his way. To say that this is worrisome is a gross understatement, as the system of checks and balances is absolutely crucial to the design of our system of government. Corruption is inherent to any human institution which has ever been or ever will be, so three branches were created which would each oversee one another’s actions in order to safeguard against abuses of power. Yet it is now commonplace for the Executive branch to declare itself immune to the review of the Judicial branch.

This sort of behavior isn’t particular to Obama, of course. This man is merely continuing a disturbing trend which exploded during the Bush administration (though it by no means began so late as that): the aggressive expansion of Executive power at the expense of the Legislative and Judicial, and in defiance of the US Constitution. The difference is that Bush wore his contempt for the Constitution on his sleeves. He never claimed to be anything more than a trigger-happy buffoon who played dress-up and offered comfort to frightened Americans through his willingness to kill lots and lots of brown people at any (and high) cost while wildly expanding his powers and those of security agencies. Obama, however, ran on a campaign of reform. Obama promised reform of our foreign policy, yet the War on Terror continues, our Middle East policy is largely unchanged, and we’re still giving Cuba the silent treatment like a nation of incensed children. He promised to bring our troops home, yet it is only now, on the precipice of the next election season, that he begins to discuss such action, and there is absolutely no mention of our expensive military network spread across the globe. He promised increased transparency in government, yet even here his track record is abominable. Both Laurence Tribe, a prominent legal scholar in his justice department, and PJ Crowley, the spokesman for the State Department, resigned in protest over the administration’s treatment of Bradley Manning, a soldier alleged to have leaked a video of a US helicopter firing on Iraqi civilians. (After months of incarceration, Manning has finally been charged with aiding the enemy, punishable by death). And now he has ordered the assassination of a US citizen with neither charges nor trial, and successfully brow-beat our docile Judicial branch to avoid oversight. The insidious detail is his ability to somehow remain the icon of reform, compassion, and reason. Those same liberals who cried out against republicans cheering Texan execution statistics now remain largely silent. True, that was one of the more unsettling moments of any debate I’ve seen, but at least those 234 were charged with crimes, tried, and found guilty before they were killed. What wasn’t executed in Texas was the 5th amendment of our Constitution.

Sadder yet, our leadership has also remained mostly silent on this issue. When good old Ron Paul, characteristically unconcerned with the political ramifications of his statements, came out and condemned this assassination as unconstitutional and frightening, he was attacked as ‘crazy’, ‘cowardly’, ‘weak’, and ‘traitorous’. Others, leaders and non, have received like treatment, and perhaps one reading this now may harbor similar feelings against me. Such reactionary outbursts are unfortunately commonplace when discussing issues related to US foreign policy or national security. Reading this article, one might easily cast me as a recalcitrant radical, desiring so strongly to resist and expose the government as to leap to the defense of terrorists at the expense of our national security, and in this way one might easily marginalize and ignore my message. I am, however, quite conservative in this concern, seeking only to defend the Constitution which is the cornerstone of our society. If  Mr. Awlaki indeed had a hand in terrorist plots against our nation, as an official claimed to the New York Times under condition of anonymity, then he should have been charged, captured, and tried before a jury of his peers. If found guilty, an appointed judge could have decided on the appropriate punishment. What a testament it would have been to our dedication to the rule of law! What happened instead was that a citizen of the United States was assassinated by his government based on vague, unverified and anonymous allegations which our courts agreed not to review, establishing a precedent by which any US citizen can be declared an enemy of the State and a target for assassination by the Executive branch, being neither charged with nor tried for a crime. Those willing to justify this as an acceptable cost of the War on Terror would do well to consider the saying that ‘a stick used to beat the black dog can just as easily be used to beat the white.’ This is a dangerous and frightening new precedent for the erosion of our basic, Constitutional safeguards.

If, as some would have us believe, the terrorists do indeed hate us for our freedom and prosperity, then it seems as though we as a nation have wasted no time in bumbling straight into their hands. We have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice our highest ideals in the name of striking at shadows and fighting an endless war. We are not only losing our most basic rights as American citizens, but we are cheering as we hand them away.

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