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Peter Van Buren

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U.S. Executes American Citizen Al-Awlaki Without Trial

Posted: 10/03/11 03:40 PM ET

Q: If a foreign organization kills an American overseas for political reasons, it is called...

A: Terrorism.

Q: If the United States kills an American overseas for political reasons, it is called...

A: Justice?

The Government of the United States, currently under the management of a former professor of constitutional law, executed one of its own citizens abroad without any form of due process. This is generally seen as a no-no as far as the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta and playground rules go. The silly old Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees "no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law" and include no exceptions for war, terrorism, or being a really shitty human being.

Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American Citizen, was killed in Yemen on or around September 30. While no one has officially claimed responsibility, the choices for trigger-puller are either the inept Yemen military or the United States, with its Skynet-like web of drones, satellites and intelligence tools.

America has been trying to kill Al-Awlaki for some time. About May 7 a U.S. military drone fired a missile in Yemen aimed at Al-Awlaki. The missile instead blew up a car with two other people in it, quickly dubbed "al Qaeda operatives" since we killed them. The U.S. has shot at Al-Awlaki even before that, including under the Bush administration.

In justifying the assassination attempts previously, Obama's counterterrorism chief Michael Leiter said Al-Awlaki posed a bigger threat to the U.S. homeland than bin Laden did, albeit without a whole lot of explanation as to why this was. But, let's be charitable and agree Al-Awaki is a bad guy; indeed, Yemen sentenced him to 10 years in jail (which is not execution, FYI) for "inciting to kill foreigners" and "forming an armed gang."

The key factor in thinking this through is that no one has accused Al-Awlaki of actual killing anyone. He is accused of talking to people, albeit about jihad and killing, and exchanging emails with evil people like the shoe bomber or the underwear bomber, I forget which, and the Fort Hood killer. None of these are nice people and I doubt any of the conversations were about nice things. Still, the truth is uglier: the U.S. executed an American Citizen because of what he said and what he thought.

Attorneys for Al-Awlaki's father previously tried to persuade a U.S. District Court to issue an injunction last year preventing the government from the targeted killing of Al-Awlaki in Yemen, though a judge dismissed the case, ruling the father did not have standing to sue. My research has so far been unable to disclose whether or not this is the first time a father has sought to sue the U.S. government to prevent the government from killing his son, but I'll keep looking. The judge did call the suit "unique and extraordinary" so I am going to go for now with the idea that no one has previously sued the US Government to prevent them from murdering a citizen without trial or due process. The judge wimped out and wrote that it was up to the elected branches of government, not the courts, to determine whether the United States has the authority to murder its own citizens abroad.

Just to get ahead of the curve, and even though my own kids are non-terrorists and still in school, I have written to the president asking in advance that he not order them killed. Who knows what they might do? One kid has violated curfew a couple of times, and another stays up late some nights on Facebook, and we all know where that can lead.

The reason I bring up this worrisome turn from regular person to wanted terrorist is because Al-Awlaki used to be on better terms with the U.S. government himself. In fact, after 9/11, the Pentagon invited him to a luncheon as part of the military's outreach to the Muslim community. Al-Awlaki "was considered to be an 'up and coming' member of the Islamic community" by the Army. He attended a luncheon at the Pentagon in the Secretary of the Army's Office of Government Counsel. Al-Awlaki was living in the D.C. area at that same, the same area my kids live , serving as Muslim chaplain at George Washington University, the same university my kids might walk past one day.

Even though constitutional law professor Obama appears to have skipped reading about the Fifth Amendment (release the transcripts! Maybe he skipped class that day!), courts in Canada have not.

A Toronto judge was justified in freeing an alleged al Qaeda collaborator given the gravity of human rights abuses committed by the United States in connection with his capture in Pakistan, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled. Judges are not expected to remain passive when countries such as the U.S. violate the rights of alleged terrorists, the court said.

"We must adhere to our democratic and legal values, even if that adherence serves in the short-term to benefit those who oppose and seek to destroy those values," said the Canadian court.

Golly, this means that because the U.S. gave up its own principles in detaining and torturing this guy, the Canadians are not going to extradite him to the U.S.. That means that the U.S. actions were... counterproductive... to our fight against terrorism. The Bill of Rights was put in place for the tough cases, not the easy ones. Sticking with it as the guiding principle has worked well for the U.S. for about 230 years, so why abandon all that now?

Meanwhile, I'll encourage my kids to stay inside when they hear drones overhead.

 
 
 

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