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Robin Koerner

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On the Killing of an American and America

Posted: 10/07/11 05:15 PM ET

The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, in the way it was done, cannot be allowed to stand.

The president who ordered it has not acknowledged its terrifying implications, not made any attempt to redraw the judicial and moral line that he appears to have blurred or even erased, not admitted the problem raised by the obvious prima facie violation of the Constitution that his actions represent, and not thought the implications so huge that he needs to go to great pains to explain to this nation how a government that can take the life of an American without due process can, even theoretically, claim to protect life, liberty and law.

It is that fact that indicates that Obama does not see himself as suspending the Constitution to save us from a threat so huge that it warranted such a terrible action -- but rather that the Bill of Rights doesn't mean very much to him in the first place. In that he is just like Bush.

If the Constitution did matter at all, the evidence of al-Awlaki's active participation in a specific crime would be presented to the people. Failing that, (if public presentation of the evidence would pose a national security threat, for example) then at the very least, an independent judicial process by which al-Awlaki could be stripped of his citizenship in absentia should have been established before any such attack was ordered. That may sound like a technicality and a lot of unnecessary work and time, but in enabling us to preserve our Constitution -- the ultimate legal protection of the rights of all Americans -- it would have been worth every dollar and day spent.

Even if the killing was by some standard "necessary," by quietly assenting, we citizens make something that should be next to impossible both politically and legally all too easy.

The first time I was politically active was to protest against the Iraq war. Like most of the protesters of that war, I am not a pacifist. The problem wasn't the idea of war per se. It was not even that we knew the casus belli was false. After all, we were not privy to the secret intelligence. Rather, it was because the word of a president alone could not alone suffice morally to justify the huge consequences that his war would obviously cause. The magnitude of Bush's proposed action demanded evidential standards that the evidence failed to satisfy. You could say we had reasonable doubt -- and then some. I am confident that the Founders would have commended our skepticism.

And it turns out that our instincts were right -- morally and factually. The fact that the world may be better off without Saddam remains irrelevant to judging the right or wrong of starting a war that was initiated for an entirely different (and false) reason.

Even if we grant the good intentions of all American officials and officers, and allow that as a practical matter, difficult decisions will always have to be made in legal and moral gray areas when it comes to protecting the nation, we are still left with the huge problem that people screw up. The Constitution stands as much to protect American citizens, of which al-Awlaki was one, from the good intentions of good people as from any conscious abuse of power. I am more scared by the loss of those protections, and of a government that would ignore them, than I ever could have been by al-Awlaki.

The critical right that was violated in the killing of al-Awlaki was that of due process -- as there can be no due process that does not allow a man to defend himself against specific charges. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin's famous comment, buying security at the cost of our most basic liberties is to go down the path of destroying both. It is, in fact, to destroy from the inside the very thing we are trying to secure on the outside -- America and its values.

We have come to a strange time in American political history when we can listen to Michael Savage lay out the proper liberal response to this sad event:

"Ron Paul floats impeachment for the drone killing of a US citizen. I agree with Ron Paul. Because if Obama can kill an American citizen based upon evidence but without a trial, he can kill you. He can kill anyone he doesn't like.


Ron Paul said on Monday that President Obama's targeting and killing of Anwar al-Awlaki may be an impeachable offense. He said impeachment would be possible but he wants to know more about how the administration flouted the law. Ron Paul called the killing a movement toward tyranny.

.... Ron Paul is 100% right. We have just totally disrespected the Constitution.

We all want [al-Awlaki] dead if he is what they say he is, and I believe he is. But what's next? Who can Obama whack next? .. You? Me? A man who runs a big website? Or a man who runs a little website that is critical of the president who we can claim is a terrorist and have him killed?...

The instinct of many is to say this is all hyperbole because that wouldn't happen here. But ten years ago, you'd have said the same thing about federal agents' being allowed to arrest you with a self-written warrant without any judicial oversight; twenty years ago, you'd have said the same thing about the governments' recording your private communications without reasonable suspicion of a crime. And earlier this very year, you'd have been surprised to find out that a man who was tried and convicted for the "crime" of making and circulating coins out of silver was labeled a "domestic terrorist" by a US Attorney. If that's what our government means by "terrorist," then I have all the more cause to doubt their choice of assassination targets.

The idiom goes that things are darkest just before the dawn, but Mao said that they were darkest just before they went completely black.

Americans must choose which it is going to be.

A political phase shift is happening and the political paradigm is changing. Michael Savage, Ron Paul, the ACLU and Kucinich, for example, now agree on the most fundamental and urgent issue of our time. That they recognize it as such is even more important than their agreement.

I realize that I have been wrong in arguing that we need to vote for Ron Paul to save America: the United States died with the killing of an American without due process. We are now voting for Ron Paul on the off-chance that we can bring America back from the dead.

I was also wrong in suggesting that true Liberals should prefer Paul over Obama: after this presidentially ordered killing, the truth is that anyone who votes for Obama -- for any "establishment candidate" at all -- will in that act alone prove themselves not to be liberal by any reasonable definition.

No person who accepts the killing of an American citizen without due process, based on the assessment of the executive branch alone, can call themselves a Liberal. A vote for Obama would be a vote knowingly against the Bill of Rights, and therefore against the very existence of basic human rights in America. It would be the act of a person complicit in putting power in the hands of a man who believes not simply in the value of government intervention, but in the altogether illiberal notion, expressed by Nixon in his famous interview with David Frost, that "if the president does it, it is not illegal."

America was sickened by the arrogance and danger of that sentiment 34 years ago. We should be more sickened now, when there is nothing left that a "terrorist" could take from Americans that our own government has not already taken.

 

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