Monday, November 14, 2011

Killing American Citizens Overseas

On September 30th of this year, a terrorist, traitor to his country, and an all around despicable man was killed by a United States air strike. Typically, I would be forgetting my normal position on the divine to celebrate another terrorist rotting forever in hell. The problem is that this man, Anwar al-Awlaki, was an American Citizen, and the United States of America is not currently engaged in a declared war.
Now, we have been happily killing American Citizens overseas in declared wars since... well, since we first became a country. Famously, in both world wars citizens of German decent went back to Germany to fight for the Fatherland. They were killed right along with the other German soldiers. Ironically, it was only those of Japanese decent who were interned against their will...
However, then, just as now, a question is raised, were those killings legal? In other words, does the Executive Branch, for the President is the Commander in Chief of the Military, have the legal right to kill American Citizens who have taken up arms against the United States of America? Is that not a treasonous act? Are these people not enemy combatants?

We first have to define what treason is. The Constitution of the United States of America in Article III Section 3 clearly states the critera for treason:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
The Constitution also gives Congress the power to declare punishments for treason in the same artilce and section:
The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.
On this matter the Constitution is seemingly very clear. To be convicted of Treason, you need to be brought to court where two witnesses must be produced to testify against you. In the United States, there is no such thing as In absentia convictions. You must be given a chance to face your accusers in public. A trial can not be held if you arn't there to answer the charges. So how can the President think that he can simply drop a bomb on an American Citizen's brain box?
During a Republican debate, Newt Gingrich was asked this very question. Despite the smug look on the moderator's face, he makes a valid point. Here is what Newt had to say: As an enemy combatant DO you give up the right to a trial? The Constitution says no. The Supreme Court says... no. In the famous Hamdi v Rumsfeld SCOUS said that enemy combatants under due process principles were entitled to a written statement of the basis for that declaration, as well as a right to challenge it before a neutral decision-maker in a timely manner. Was Anwar al-Awlaki given that chance? Nope.
Here is what our buddy Congressman Ron Paul said in a letter to the New York Daily News:
As President, I would not hesitate to use decisive force to repel any imminent threat. National defense is a primary function of Congress and the commander-in-chief, and, as chief executive, I would carry out my duties as outlined in the Constitution and in accordance with the rule of law.
President Obama apparently believes he is not bound by the Constitution or the rule of law. When it was reported that Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by U.S. drone strikes in Yemen last week, certainly no one felt remorse for his fate. Awlaki was a detestable person we believe helped recruit and inspire others to kill Americans through terrorist acts. We have to take the fight against terrorism very seriously. In 2001, I supported the authority to capture and kill the thugs responsible for 9/11. In our efforts we must, however, work hard to preserve and respect our great American constitutional principles.
Awlaki was a U.S. citizen. Under our Constitution, American citizens, even those living abroad, must be charged with a crime before being sentenced. As President, I would have arrested Awlaki, brought him to the U.S., tried him and pushed for the stiffest punishment allowed by law. Treason has historically been judged to be the worst of crimes, deserving of the harshest sentencing. But what I would not do as President is what Obama has done and continues to do in spectacular fashion: circumvent the rule of law.
On Feb. 3, 2010, Dennis Blair, then the country's director of national intelligence, admitted before the House Intelligence Committee that "Being a U.S. citizen will not spare an American from getting assassinated by military or intelligence operatives." This open admission by an Obama administration official, not even attempting to keep it classified or top secret, sets a dangerous new precedent in our history.
The precedent set by the killing of Awlaki establishes the frightening legal premise that any suspected enemy of the United States - even if they are a citizen - can be taken out on the President's say-so alone. Part of the very concept of citizenship is the protection of due process and the rule of law. The President wants to spread American values around the world but continues to do great damage to them here at home, appointing himself judge, jury and executioner by presidential decree.
When Nazi leader and Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann was convicted and executed by the Israeli government in 1962, it was after he was captured, extradited and tried. Respect for the rule of law never has been for the protection of monsters like Eichmann or Awlaki, who should meet their just fate - but for the protection of the vast majority of innocent citizens who should never become subject to mere governmental whim.
Dr. Paul seems to be on the right side of the law here, and if so... Then President Obama has seemingly committed high crimes, thus subject to impeachment. Dr. Paul did, for a time, pursue support for impeachment charges against the President. He ceased his efforts when it became evident that virtually no one in congress would support an impeachment over the killing of a terrorist.

So... where do I stand? This is one of those issues that is just so messed up it is difficult to come out with a view you can live with. On the one hand, if you agree that Anwar al-Awlaki was protected under the Constitution as a citizen of this country, then you must voice protest against his assassination, and petition for the impeachment of the President. On the other hand, he was a terrorist actively working to destroy the very country who is debating if his killing is legal. Very very difficult choice, and, assuredly if you come down against the killing, you are most assuredly helping our enemies slowly achieve their goals.
Again, where do I stand?? When in doubt I default to freedom, and freedom in this case demands that Anwar al-Awlaki be brought in for trial on treason and other criminal charges. His killing, however it may have helped the war effort, was wrong. Just as we must set a child murder free because the evidence that damns him was obtained improperly, so we must hamper our war effort so that every effort can be made to bring American Citizens engaged in acts of war to trial.

1 comment:

Expatriate Tax Return said...

I agree with you! Great post!