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U.S. tries to assassinate U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki

May 9, 2011

Via Glenn Greenwald
http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/05/07/awlaki/index.html

There are certain civil liberties debates where, even though I hold strong opinions, I can at least understand the reasoning and impulses of those who disagree; the killing of bin Laden was one such instance. But the notion that the President has the power to order American citizens assassinated without an iota of due process — far from any battlefield, not during combat — is an idea so utterly foreign to me, so far beyond the bounds of what is reasonable, that it’s hard to convey in words or treat with civility.

How do you even engage someone in rational discussion who is willing to assume that their fellow citizen is guilty of being a Terrorist without seeing evidence for it, without having that evidence tested, without giving that citizen a chance to defend himself — all because the President declares it to be so? “I know Awlaki, my fellow citizen, is a Terrorist and he deserves to die. Why? Because the President decreed that, and that’s good enough for me. Trials are so pre-9/11.” If someone is willing to dutifully click their heels and spout definitively authoritarian anthems like that, imagine how impervious to reason they are on these issues.

And if someone is willing to vest in the President the power to assassinate American citizens without a trial far from any battlefield — if someone believes that the President has that power: the power of unilaterally imposing the death penalty and literally acting as judge, jury and executioner — what possible limits would they ever impose on the President’s power? There cannot be any. Or if someone is willing to declare a citizen to be a “traitor” and demand they be treated as such — even though the Constitution expressly assigns the power to declare treason to the Judicial Branch and requires what we call “a trial” with stringent evidence requirements before someone is guilty of treason — how can any appeals to law or the Constitution be made to a person who obviously believes in neither?

What’s most striking about this is how it relates to the controversies during the Bush years. One of the most strident attacks from the Democrats on Bush was that he wanted to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. One of the first signs of Bush/Cheney radicalism was what they did to Jose Padilla: assert the power to imprison this American citizen without charges. Yet here you have Barack Obama asserting the power not to eavesdrop on Americans or detain them without charges — but to target them for killing without charges — and that, to many of his followers, is perfectly acceptable. It’s a “horrific shredding of the Constitution” and an act of grave lawlessness for Bush to eavesdrop on or detain Americans without any due process; but it’s an act of great nobility when Barack Obama ends their lives without any due process.

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