Michael Ratner / The Guardian & Glenn Greenwald / Salon – 2011-10-02 00:38:16
Anwar al-Awlaki’s Extrajudicial Murder
The law on the use of lethal force by executive order is specific. This assassination broke it — that creates a terrifying precedent
Michael Ratner / The Guardian
WASHINGTON (September 30, 2011) — Is this the world we want? Where the president of the United States can place an American citizen, or anyone else for that matter, living outside a war zone on a targeted assassination list, and then have him murdered by drone strike.
This was the very result we at the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU feared when we brought a case in US federal court on behalf of Anwar al-Awlaki’s father, hoping to prevent this targeted killing. We lost the case on procedural grounds, but the judge considered the implications of the practice as raising “serious questions”, asking:
“Can the executive order the assassination of a US citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organisation?”
Yes, Anwar al-Awlaki was a radical Muslim cleric. Yes, his language and speeches were incendiary. He may even have engaged in plots against the United States — but we do not know that because he was never indicted for a crime.
This profile should not have made him a target for a killing without due process and without any effort to capture, arrest and try him. The US government knew his location for purposes of a drone strike, so why was no effort made to arrest him in Yemen, a country that apparently was allied in the US efforts to track him down?
There are — or were — laws about the circumstances in which deadly force can be used, including against those who are bent on causing harm to the United States. Outside of a war zone, as Awlaki was, lethal force can only be employed in the narrowest and most extraordinary circumstances: when there is a concrete, specific and imminent threat of an attack; and even then, deadly force must be a last resort.
The claim, after the fact, by President Obama that Awlaki “operationally directed efforts” to attack the United States was never presented to a court before he was placed on the “kill” list and is untested. Even if President Obama’s claim has some validity, unless Awlaki’s alleged terrorists actions were imminent and unless deadly force employed as a last resort, this killing constitutes murder.
We know the government makes mistakes, lots of them, in giving people a “terrorist” label. Hundreds of men were wrongfully detained at GuantÃ¡namo. Should this same government, or any government, be allowed to order people’s killing without due process?
The dire implications of this killing should not be lost on any of us. There appears to be no limit to the president’s power to kill anywhere in the world, even if it involves killing a citizen of his own country. Today, it’s in Yemen; tomorrow, it could be in the UK or even in the United States.
(c) 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
The Due-process-free Assassination of US Citizens Is Now Reality
Glenn Greenwald / Salon
(September 30, 2011) — It was first reported in January of last year that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of American citizens whom the President had ordered assassinated without any due process, and one of those Americans was Anwar al-Awlaki.
No effort was made to indict him for any crimes (despite a report last October that the Obama administration was “considering” indicting him). Despite substantial doubt among Yemen experts about whether he even had any operational role in Al Qaeda, no evidence (as opposed to unverified government accusations) was presented of his guilt.
When Awlaki’s father sought a court order barring Obama from killing his son, the DOJ argued, among other things, that such decisions were “state secrets” and thus beyond the scrutiny of the courts. He was simply ordered killed by the President: his judge, jury and executioner. When Awlaki’s inclusion on President Obama’s hit list was confirmed, The New York Times noted that “it is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.”
After several unsuccessful efforts to assassinate its own citizen, the US succeeded today (and it was the US). It almost certainly was able to find and kill Awlaki with the help of its long-time close friend President Saleh, who took a little time off from murdering his own citizens to help the US murder its.
The US thus transformed someone who was, at best, a marginal figure into a martyr, and again showed its true face to the world. The government and media search for The Next bin Laden has undoubtedly already commenced.
What’s most striking about this is not that the US Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar (“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law).
What’s most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the US Government’s new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the US Government.
Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President’s ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki — including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry’s execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists: criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed.
From an authoritarian perspective, that’s the genius of America’s political culture. It not only finds ways to obliterate the most basic individual liberties designed to safeguard citizens from consummate abuses of power (such as extinguishing the lives of citizens without due process). It actually gets its citizens to stand up and clap and even celebrate the destruction of those safeguards.
What amazes me most whenever I write about this topic is recalling how terribly upset so many Democrats pretended to be when Bush claimed the power merely to detain or even just eavesdrop on American citizens without due process. Remember all that?
Yet now, here’s Obama claiming the power not to detain or eavesdrop on citizens without due process, but to kill them; marvel at how the hardest-core White House loyalists now celebrate this and uncritically accept the same justifying rationale used by Bush/Cheney (this is war! the President says he was a Terrorist!) without even a moment of acknowledgment of the profound inconsistency or the deeply troubling implications of having a President — even Barack Obama — vested with the power to target US citizens for murder with no due process.
Also, during the Bush years, civil libertarians who tried to convince conservatives to oppose that administration’s radical excesses would often ask things like this: would you be comfortable having Hillary Clinton wield the power to spy on your calls or imprison you with no judicial reivew or oversight?
So for you good progressives out there justifying this, I would ask this: how would the power to assassinate US citizens without due process look to you in the hands of, say, Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann?
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