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When I heard we killed the terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki with a Predator drone strike in Yemen, my first reaction was "good, we got another one !" When it comes to killing al Qaedans, I'm on-board with the idea, mainly because al Qaedans are on-board with the jihadist idea of killing us. If it's going to be us or them, I want it to be them. Putting them on the 72 Virgin Express is fine by me. Better that than the Capitol Bldg. blowing up.
But this is 2011, and even killing a terrorist bent on killing Americans is not without controversy. Here's Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX):
“That’s not a good way to deal with our problems,” [Paul] said of the drone strike in Yemen that killed Awlaki. “He was born here,” said Paul. “He is an American citizen. He was never tried or charged with any crime. Nobody knows if he killed anyone." Paul said the precedent of striking against Americans, even those suspected of being terrorist masterminds, is not a good one. “If the American people accept this blindly and casually - have a precedent of an American president assassinating people who he thinks are bad. I think it that’s sad,” he said.
Awlaki was obviously in the camp (metaphorically and then literally) of our mortal enemies. If propagandizing on behalf of a mortal enemy were enough to justify the assassination of a U.S. citizen, then we would have shot half the faculty of Harvard and 93.8 percent of the Motion Picture Academy a few decades back. But this is wartime, the argument goes. So was Korea, Vietnam, and much of the second half of the 20th century, but we managed to get through it without ordering the assassination of I. F. Stone, and his beloved Soviets were a far greater threat to this nation than is al-Qaeda.
If the Authorization for Use of Military Force does indeed permit all this, then it is only a law legalizing lawlessness. Citizenship, as I have argued before, is my main concern here. If citizenship in a republic means anything, it means that raw political clout is not the only thing standing between the citizen and arbitrary violence on the part of the state. The extrajudicial killing of American citizens — not on a battlefield, mind you, and not in the course of combat — fundamentally changes the relationship between citizen and state. I have my doubts that any sensible person would have let himself freeze to death at Valley Forge to establish such a government.
Yes, Awlaki is an American citizen. He was born in New Mexico.
And yes, we do have that piece of paper known as the U.S. Constitution, which is supposed to be the supreme law of the land. American citizens are supposed to be covered under the Constitution, and the Bill Of Rights contains a Fifth Amendment, which states the following - "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."
The President Of The United States is sworn to uphold the Constitution. The question reduces down to this - Have we set a very dangerous precedent where the government can now execute an American citizen without any due process, or are the President's actions justified by the Fifth Amendment exception for "service in time of War or public danger ?" When it comes to battling enemies of the United States and national security, that's about the only time I give our government any constitutional leeway, so I'm inclined to give the President the benefit of the doubt here...but my inner libertarian is scolding me, calling me a fool to ever trust the government to hold it's own expanded power in check. History has shown that when you give government an inch, it takes a mile. A great deal of my personal political philosophy is based upon the tendency of governments toward tyranny. The idea of limited government is a lot more than some right-wing or libertarian talking point. It's an essential prerequisite to a free society.
I find myself in a dilemma. I'm wary of the precedent we're setting here...but I'm still glad we took Awlaki out.
I'd appreciate any thoughts on the matter.