This morning it was reported that Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both citizens of the U.S., were killed in Yemen by U.S. drones. For nearly two years al-Awlaki was targeted by the Obama administration, which had authorized his assassination, despite not having charged him with any crime, let alone convicted him in a court of law. His father, Nasser al-Awlaki, had filled suit with the DOJ in order to prevent his son’s killing, but a judge dismissed the case on procedural grounds.
Anderson Cooper interviewed Jeffrey Toobin on his show, asking under what legal justification the U.S. could have summarily killed one of its citizens, given a legal ban on assassinations. Toobin’s response was essentially that under the authorization of force, the U.S. is fighting al-Qaeda, and al-Awlaki was a member of al-Qaeda, therefore “this guy was fair game under our laws.” As for the prohibition on assassinations, Toobin says “it’s pretty much irrelevant at this point,” because he argues, “so many presidents have figured out ways around it.”
There is so much here to refute. The authorization of force is not a declaration of war, and therefore military action is not pursuant to the constitution’s delegation of war-making powers. Assuming it was, simply for the sake of argument, where in that bill did it repeal the 5th Amendment? It’s not even clear that he was in fact a member of al-Qaeda, as reported in Der Spiegel. And because no one really follows the rules anyway, so they don’t matter, is hardly a sound argument.
The executive branch and members of the media are assuring us all that he was a bad guy. After all he was a terrorist, you know. He spoke out in support of Nadal Hassan, the military officer accused of killing thirteen soldiers at Fort Bliss. He was said to have supported the efforts of those trying to ship bombs packed inside toner cartridges. The latest reports are that his next plans included the use of chemical weapons.
So what? As cruel and inhuman as it is, praising the deaths of other humans is not the same as committing the crimes against them. Furthermore, there is no evidence that al-Awlaki had anything to do with any other attacks. From watching the news, listening to the radio, and reading reports online, one might gather that reason free from emotion is lost in this country. Just as with Osama bin Laden, no one seems to consider the precedence being set, or the example being shown around the world.
How might Americans react if a Russian aircraft stationed in Mexico routinely launched missiles into a Dallas suburb, in an effort to kill a Russian citizen accused of no crime? What sort of reaction might we expect the families of the murdered to have? Will they praise Americans as just and good, or will they resent their presence, and forever seek vengeance? The questions seem to answer themselves. For more on this topic, see Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com and Michael Ratner of The Guardian.
I wrote the following comment on an article from the daily beast:
First, they starved the Iraqi people, and I said nothing because I was not Iraqi;
Then, they tortured the Afghans, and I said nothing because I was not an Afghan;
Then, they bombed Pakistan, and I said nothing because I was not from Pakistan;
Then, they killed a “terrorist,” and I said nothing because I was not a “terrorist;”
Then, they came for me….
But that’s not the half of it; it’s far worse. It’s one thing for people to be indifferent to the bloodshed and wanton disregard for justice, but instead they cheer it.