Now there’s a headline sure to grab attention, even condemnation.
But from the seat of this armchair commander-in-chief, it was the right move.
Scholars have furiously debated the legality of killing Anwar al Awlaki, an American-born jihadist working with al Qaeda in Yemen, during a drone strike Friday.
Awlaki is a self-professed propagandist and recruiter for the terror organization who had known affiliations with three of the 9/11 hijackers, the Ft. Hood murderer and also the Christmas Day butt-bomber.
Of course, his operational role in al Qaeda was never proved in a court of law, and this inconvenience has prompted outrage among anti-war leftists and legal experts with a bent toward sanctimonious charges of war crimes.
They argue that Awlaki’s Fifth Amendment rights were violated. Where is the due process, they ask?
According to Diane Marie Amann, a University of Georgia law professor quoted in an L.A. Times article on Friday, the debate hinges on whether the conflict with al Qaeda is considered war or, rather, an international police action.
“Viewed through the lens of ordinary criminal justice, for the government to kill a suspect rather than put him on trial is summary execution, clearly forbidden by U.S. and international law alike,” Amann said. “Viewed through the lens of armed conflict, the result is different, however: The laws of war permit a state to kill its enemies.”
And that’s precisely what Awlaki was: an enemy of the United States. It’s cut and dry, really.
Awlaki’s actions were certainly treasonous and, from a pragmatic sense, he effectively renounced his U.S. citizenship long ago. After all, does anyone really believe that he left the United States after 9/11 to live in a Yemeni village so he could practice his religion in peace?
So Awlaki’s citizenship only matters when we consider this problem: If the U.S. government were to establish a policy whereby American citizens living abroad and working with anti-U.S. terror groups are not subject to the rules of war – whereby targeted killings are justified – can you imagine the precedent it would set for homegrown terrorists?
Now, I recognize that some might challenge this slippery slope notion, but critics of Awlaki’s killing use the same kind of persuasive argument. And it’s not at all persuasive. They say we should all now be fearful that the government can and will strike a deathblow to anyone and everyone presumed to have terrorism in their heart.
But our military forces are not going to be dropping bombs on terrorists at home or living in sovereign countries. Yemen, however, is neither.
Those who decry Awlaki’s killing say he did not present an imminent threat and was not located in an established battlefield, such as Iraq or Afghanistan.
But these arguments are specious, at best. Nothing ever seems imminent until it’s over. And the war against al Qaeda is not limited to battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just ask Osama bin Laden, killed while hiding out just an hour from Pakistan’s capital.
What solution then do critics have when these rather arbitrary stipulations are shot down? Should the United States have actively sought to arrest Awlaki in Yemen, where we have no jurisdiction or on-ground resources to conduct such an operation?
And what is with the glorification of the U.S. justice system? It’s far from a perfect tribunal and we should acknowledge its limitations in dealing with terrorists.
Finally, if due process were such an important right to Awlaki, well, he knew what was coming down for him from the heavens and he never bothered to turn himself in. That’s because he was too busy fighting us. And for that, death became him. Rightly so.
I’ll see you around.
Joshua H. Silavent is a reporter of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.