A man named Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a U.S. predator drone strike in Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia and Eritrea (where all those pirates have caused so many problems). He was 40, my age. That same strike also killed a man named Samir Khan. The Washington Post piece I'll reference is here, and the U.K. Guardian piece is here. An overview piece from the New York Times is here.
Both men had been linked closely to the al-Qaeda terrorist network. Awlaki had a hand in the Fort Hood shootings, and had attempted to coordinate other terrorist attacks. Khan was the editor of al-Qaeda's English language magazine (who knew they had a freakin' magazine). Now, it would be real easy to say, Great, a couple more terrorists are dead. Good work.
But here's a key fact which may give you pause: both of these men were citizens of the United States of America -- they were born here. Mr. Awlaki was born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, Mr. Khan, 25, lived with his family -- of Pakistani origin -- in North Carolina as recently as four years ago.
Maybe this still doesn't bother you. Who cares if the guy was from New Mexico? Who cares if he was a U.S. citizen?
Maybe you shouldn't care. After all, he advocated for the killing of Americans in the name of the Islam he knew and understood. He was a dangerous terrorist. So was the other guy. And we kill terrorists, right?
Sure, maybe you shouldn't care.
Or maybe you should.
The federal lawsuit, which is being brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights at the request of Mr. Awlaki’s father, has set off a broader debate over whether the government should be allowed to assassinate an American in a country the United States is not at war with. The administration maintains that the president has sole authority over such strikes, while the other side is arguing that judicial review is required.
It’s a vexing legal question worthy of debate. But no one should remain under the mistaken assumption that killing Mr. Awlaki will somehow make us safer.
Mind you, that link goes to an opinion piece from November of 2010. Mr. Awlaki was not yet dead.
Well, he is now. And we are left to struggle with some uncomfortable questions. After all, we still have a Constitution of the United States, with all its various Amendments. Here's a piece of a really good one, courtesty Kevin at Ghost in the Machine (and on Twitter, @kcm74, where he and I went back and forth a bit on this; so, a very grateful, but serious tip of the hat to Kevin for making me think about this one). In fact, the content of Kevin's tweet, which inspired my response:
"No person shall...be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Pretty self-explanatory, people. #awlaki
Well, at the risk of being flip, I'd certainly say that Mr. Awlaki and Mr. Khan were "deprived of life." The real question comes around "due process of law." Predator drones don't serve papers.
The whole of the 5th Amendment, a little long for Twitter, actually says:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Once again, these are complicated, difficult legal questions, as well as agonizing moral questions. I am not a lawyer, but I don't wonder if the administration isn't looking at the first three lines, there. In other words, maybe you don't need that whole Grand Jury deal if we're "in a time of War or public danger."
Which only leads to more questions about the endless War on Terror.
On the question of Constitutionality and legalities and the ultimate rights of an American who has renounced their country and countrymen as death-deserving heathens, I really have no easy answer. I'm not sure a lawyer would, either. I'm not sure a team of lawyers would.
[As an aside, I did raise with Kevin the notion of a guy presenting a clear and present danger, say, walking down the street with a gun, shooting at people. The police have the right to shoot him, don't they? Kevin pointed out that the evidence that Mr. al-Awlaki was a danger to America was all presented by the government, and that a due process was warranted. Again, complicated answers only raising more complicated questions.]
Here's what I do know. Sure, as a guy interested in the affairs of the world, in public policy, and in politics, this is a complicated question. There are no easy answers.
As a father, these questions get easier and easier. I've had to think about these kind of life-and-death issues with respect to my family a lot lately. Most recently with the shameful execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, and before that the killing of Osama bin Laden.
As a person who cares about the Constitution, who cares about politics and policy, does the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki trouble me? Sure it does. Yes.
But when he says, as he did in one sermon, "Don’t consult anyone in killing Americans. Fighting Satan doesn’t require a religious ruling," he's talking about every American.
He is talking about my daughter. My wife. My family.
I won't mourn the passing of a terrorist who wishes my family ill. I will mourn the bastardization of justice in the name of vengeful expediency.