Brian Montopoli / CBS News & Sal Gentile / PBS.org – 2011-10-01 00:57:39
Ron Paul, ACLU Condemn Anwar al-Awlaki Killing
Brian Montopoli / CBS News
(September 30, 2011) — White House hopeful Ron Paul and the American Civil Liberties Union each condemned the United States’ killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who has never been charged with any crime.
Paul, a staunch Libertarian, said in New Hampshire Friday that it’s “sad” if “the American people accept this blindly and casually,” adding that “nobody knows if he ever killed anybody,” According to the Wall Street Journal, the Texas Republican lawmaker said United States officials “have never been specific about the crime.”
The ACLU said the killing was a violation of both US and international law.
“As we’ve seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the ACLU.
“The government’s authority to use lethal force against its own citizens should be limited to circumstances in which the threat to life is concrete, specific and imminent. It is a mistake to invest the president — any president — with the unreviewable power to kill any American whom he deems to present a threat to the country.”
Added ACLU National Security Project Litigation Director Ben Wizner: “If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state.”
As the Washington Post reported in January 2010, the Obama administration has elected to continue a post-Sept. 11 Bush administration policy authorizing the CIA and the military to kill US citizens outside the country if there is strong evidence of their involvement in terrorist activities. US officials reportedly maintain lists of citizens who they have the authority to kill. Awlaki’s father unsuccessfully sought a court order last year to keep the government from killing his son.
al-Awlaki is a radical Islamic preacher who rose to the top ranks of al Qaeda in Yemen, and US officials said he played a “significant operational role” in plotting and fomenting attacks on the country where he was born. “He directed the failed attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009, he directed the failed attempt to blow up US cargo planes in 2010, and he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda,” President Obama said Friday.
Who was Anwar al-Awlaki?
The Obama administration’s position that it can kill a US citizen without due process seems to stand in contrast to its handling of foreign-born terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who are provided access to lawyers and who the administration maintains should be tried in federal courts.
Ron Paul was not the only presidential candidate to raise questions about the killing. Gary Johnson, who shares many of Paul’s libertarian beliefs, said “we cannot allow the War on Terror to diminish our steadfast adherence to the notion of due process for American citizens. The protections under the Constitution for those accused of crimes do not just apply to people we like — they apply to everyone, including a terrorist like al-Awlaki. It is a question of due process for American citizens.”
ACLU Criticizes Killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US Citizen, Calling it a ‘Dangerous’ Precedent
Sal Gentile / PBS.org
(September 30, 2011) — Yemen’s state news agency and American officials confirmed Friday that Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric, had been killed in an American missile strike.
The killing of Awlaki, who had been a charismatic and Internet-savvy mouthpiece for Jihadists around the world, was seen as the biggest US counter-terrorism success since the death of Osama bin Laden in May. “This is further proof that Al Qaeda and its affiliates will have no safe haven anywhere in the world,” President Obama said in remarks Friday.
But the killing of Awlaki, an American citizen born in New Mexico, raises grave questions about the use of lethal military force by American officials. By all accounts, Awlaki was the first American citizen deliberately targeted for killing by US military officials, who accused the radical, Yemen-based cleric of playing an important operational role in several attempted terrorist attacks on the US, and claimed broad powers to hunt Awlaki down and kill him. Civil liberties organizations, such as the ACLU, have derided the policy as an aggressive overreach of Constitutional authority.
“We continue to believe that the targeted killing program violates both US and international law,” Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the ACLU, said in an interview Friday morning with Need to Know. “As we’ve seen today, it’s a program under which US citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process and on the basis of standards and evidence that are secret.”
The ACLU filed a lawsuit in July on behalf of Awlaki’s father, Nasser al-Awlaki, challenging the government’s authority to target American citizens for killing outside clearly defined battle zones, and without an imminent threat to the lives of American citizens.
The ACLU accused the government of, among other things, disregarding the Fifth Amendment, which states that no American shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The suit was dismissed on procedural grounds, and the organization has yet to decide whether to file a new court challenge.
“The government’s power to use lethal force against its own citizens should be strictly limited to circumstances in which the threat of life is concrete and specific, and also imminent,” Jaffer told Need to Know. “It’s a profound mistake to invest any president with the unreviewable power to kill any American citizen who he deems to present a threat to the country.”
Jaffer said the Obama administration had claimed broad war powers far beyond any granted to an American president in US history, including in times of war. In the past, the authority to kill American citizens has been restricted to fixed geographical boundaries of conflict and to periods in which the US was at war with a clearly defined enemy.
“The authority the administration is claiming is not an authority that is limited to the battlefield. In their view, the battlefield is anywhere, therefore terrorists can be found anywhere,” Jaffer said. “That’s dangerous.”
Jaffer also sharply criticized the administration for failing to live up to the expectations many civil liberties organizations had when Obama ran for president in 2008. Obama, Jaffer said, has continued many of the aggressive counter-terrorism policies embraced by the administration of George W. Bush, including the use of surveillance and other provisions of the “Patriot Act.”
“It has certainly been surprising and disappointing to us that this administration has continued so many of the last administration’s most radical national security policies, including polices that many members of this administration criticized when they were in office,” Jaffer said.
Jaffer also expressed frustration that many Americans who would otherwise be uncomfortable with such an aggressive use of military power in the hands of Bush, for example, are assuaged by the fact that the power is somehow “safe in the hands of President Obama.” The danger in that complacency, Jaffer said, is that, with the precedent set by President Obama, the power to target Americans for killing will likely be used — and possibly abused — by future presidents.
“The administration is claiming war power all over the world, and the war power doesn’t distinguish between Americans and anyone else,” Jaffer said. “The fact that President Obama used the power today set the precedent that other presidents will invoke in the future.”
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