Monday, October 3, 2011

A Killing Abroad

Cool and rainy weather these last few days.  The calendar says October so I guess upper 50's should be expected but wasn't it just a few days ago that it was 80 degrees?  Is this the end of shorts and sandals for 2011? 

While not as heralded as the death of Osama bin Laden, there was another assassination of a key al-Qaeda leader this past weekend when Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a drone strike.   Al-Awlaki was the very visible leader of the Yemen faction of
al-Qaeda, a branch which has upgraded both its reputation and its activities in its violence against America.  To some, he was the heir apparent to bin Laden, as the center of the radical Islamic movement has shifted away from Iraq and Afghanistan towards Yemen.  He was fluent in English which enabled him to penetrate an audience not easily reached in the past.    

And, al-Awlaki was a US citizen.

For most people, killing this terrorist was a no brainer.  He had long ago dissolved his connection to the United States by calling for violence against our country and its citizens.  He has been linked to various terrorist plots and actions including the Ft Hood shooter and the Christmas Day bomber.  All crimes that say treason in big, bold letters.

Yet, he was a US citizen.  This simple fact was enough to cause the Obama Administration to request the justice departments Office of Legal Counsel to issue a memorandum (same office that, under Bush II, ruled that water boarding was not torture).
In the end, it was decided that there was no way to arrest and try the man so that in his case specifically, assassination was legal.  Of course, we all know the power of precedence so to me it opens the door for other overseas killings of American born enemies of our country. 

The danger is whether such a precedent could be used to authorize the killing of an American for other reasons that might be considered treasonous.  Perhaps someone plotting a cyber attack on our financial or military computer systems.  That would be pretty serious, so would it also justify suspending the constitution?  How about using it to authorize the killing of an enemy with American citizenship within our borders?  Someone who has been linked to a credible attack on a nuclear reactor?  Do we kill him/her outright also?

What is ironic is that most people who have been quoting the constitution when attacking Obama are generally quiet on this one, even though, clearly, due process of law as guaranteed by the constitution has been waived for this particular American citizen.
(Although I did see that Ron Paul was quoted as saying that Obama could be impeached for this act; could be but shouldn't be was his statement, I believe.  Another reason that Mr Paul can not win the Republican nomination as when his opponents hear that he is defending the rights of an American terrorist, he will be pilloried).

Obviously, in an ideal world, we hunt down the likes of al-Awlaki and bring him to justice through a military or civilain trial.  Perhaps he is killed in the process of that arrest so our legal conscious can be clear, but there is no middle ground when we target and kill someone with a missile shot from hundreds of miles away.  There was no intent to capture, only kill.  And for those killed with him, whether guilty by willing association or merely the driver who drew the short stick, I guess we don't even blink an eye as they were not Americans.  (One was a Saudi national; funny how so many terrorists are Saudi Arabian by nationality or supported with Saudi money). 

State sponsored killing to insure the survival of the state.  If you were against state sponsored torture to insure the safety of Amerians, should you also be against killing?  If not, then are you not accepting the premise that it is OK to kill but you can't beat them up?   And if you are OK with torture and killing because they are obviously our enemies, then are you OK with suspending the right to trial for other "obvious" miscreants?  Mass murderers?  Child molesters?  How about admitted frauds, like Bernie Madoff?  Everyone knew he was guilty of massive financial fraud and was responsible for the loss to hundreds of people of millions of dollars; should he have been convicted and sentenced without trial?   

It is certainly a tough call, but if we are to be a nation of laws, don't we need to apply the law to all of our citizens, even those we abhor?

Another, less obvious side of the story is the ever increasing use of drone strikes by Obama.  Effective use, some might say.  Again, not much flack from the right for this upswing in remote killing of our enemies.  I guess this is the kind of thing that a liberal president can do without fear of repercussions.  Can't work to form a policy that will provide health insurance for all Americans, but he can kill as many terrorists in whatever way possible.  The fact that al-Qaeda has suffered great losses in its leadership cadre, that our troop presence in Iraq continues to dwindle and that there is a plan to withdrawl American troops from our expensive and (in my opinion) wasteful war in Afghanistan is given short shift when compared to the daily difficulties of our economy.  Again, people vote with their wallets so Obama will need to win his re-election, not on the strength of his actions as the commander in chief (an area that many said would be his weakness) but on his ability to get our economy back on track.

Strange how politics works.  Supplant the constitution to kill an enemy and you are praised.  Expand the reach of government into the life of a particular American via a complete disregard of the laws of our nation, and you are a defender of the freedom of our country.  As is always the case, we must constantly be vigil of what we wish for; we just might get it.       

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