Frankly, I’m wondering whether anything like this has ever been done before. Apparently, a CIA drone killed two U.S. citizens in Yemen, one of whom was Anwar Al-Awlaki, a noted American-born Al Qaeda leader. They killed him without trial despite the fact that the U.S. Constitution specifically prohibits depriving any citizen of life without due process. Last I checked, a drone missile wasn’t due process. They also killed him nowhere near any battlefield on which any U.S. citizen was in jeopardy nor during any war declared by this country against Awlaki’s (Yemen). Samir Khan, another U.S. citizen, was also killed in the attack. He was not on any wanted list at all. His killing is even less defensible. Now, enemies of the U.S. can argue we’ll kill you just for editing a magazine we don’t like. As a member of the Charlotte Muslim community said:
“This is a very dangerous road when you go and kill someone like this,” said Ayeb Suleiman, 25, a medical resident. “He was just an editor. He was just writing.”
To be clear, I have no problem with apprehending anyone who organizes or is an accessory to any act of terror against U.S. citizens. That’s the claim against Awlaki, though there have been absolutely no legal proceedings brought against him in any court, including any in the U.S. I am fully prepared to see anyone, including Americans, who kill my fellow citizens punished to the full extent of the law. If the U.S. had evidence it should’ve brought it.
Obama is now calling Awlaki the “director of external operations” for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a term no U.S. official has used before. Until now, the only charges against him were that he was a fiery, gifted orator who detested the U.S. and its role in the Muslim world. Awlaki was known as being an especial thorn in our side because he philosophically inspired a number of would-be terrorists who attacked us on our soil. Now, after we’ve killed him and refused to provide any evidence of our claims about his guilt, we’re all of a sudden calling him a terror mastermind. How convenient.
Even here, the NY Times says it outlines Awlaki’s “ties” to terror attacks, when all they can do is say that attackers listened to tapes of his before they went on a terror spree. While I would’ve been be willing to see charges brought against him for incitement of such attacks…but killing him? They certainly couldn’t get the death penalty against him in any real court. Which is why they sentenced him to death by missile. I only hope that those who passed this sentence don’t ever suffer the punishment themselves. They at least deserve a trial before someone metes out such “justice” to them.
If you follow this logic to its chilling conclusion, the next time in U.S. history there is a movement like the Black Panthers or the American Indian Movement, which advocates violence against American targets, the U.S. government will be justified in murdering these future Bobby Seales, Huey Newtons, Leonard Pelletiers and Fred Hamptons without trial. The only difference is that Obama killed Awlaki in Yemen and not in the U.S. itself.
I also opposed the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Not only did he deserve a trial to determine his guilt, doing so would’ve raised America in the esteem of the world and further highlighted the value of international law. As it was, we showed ourselves to be only marginally better than pirates plying the world’s oceans for prey.
We must be fully prepared for other guerrilla groups and nations to do precisely the same thing to our citizens–accuse them of being terrorists and claim the right to summarily execute them wherever they may be found without due process. Let’s say that Yemen were a country that had the capacity to do this, and was inclined to pursue revenge against the U.S. What would stop them, now that we’ve set such a precedent? Alternatively, let’s say that Israel or the U.S. attack Iran and kill Iranians in significant numbers. What’s to prevent the Iranians from pursuing a revenge terror attack against those who prepared similar attacks on their citizens? The mullahs will rightly say that they learned their lessons well at the knee of their teacher, Barack Obama. Who’s to say they’d be wrong?
David Cole writes similarly in the NY Review of Books:
In international law, where reciprocity governs, what is lawful for the goose is lawful for the gander. And when the goose is the United States, it sets a precedent that other countries may well feel warranted in following. Indeed, exploiting the international mandate to fight terrorism that has emerged since the September 11 attacks, Russia has already expanded its definition of terrorists…It may seem fanciful that Russia would have the nerve to use such an authority within the United States—though in the case of Alexsander Litvinenko it appears to have had few qualms about taking extreme measures to kill an individual who had taken refuge in the United Kingdom. But it is not at all fanciful that once the US proclaims such tactics legitimate, other nations might seek to use them against their less powerful neighbors.
…If…we continue to justify such practices in only the vaguest of terms [without offering proof of who we’ve targeted and why], we should expect other countries to take them up—and almost certainly in ways we will not find to our liking.
Martin Luther King said, inspired by Gandhi, that “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” makes us all blind and toothless. I’m ashamed to say that Barack Obama has turned his back on this wisdom from the roots of the non-violence movement. Our president thinks an eye for an eye is pretty good counter-terror policy. And remember, this is the guy who won the Nobel Peace Prize, fer chrissakes! What a schande that award looks like now. It goes to show you that you must never bestow an award on someone in the hopes that it will spur them to do the right thing.
I have never heard that it is part of the CIA’s mandate to kill U.S. citizens. Is it now legal to do what never was legal before the era of Dick Cheney? Are we going to allow Pres. Obama, a leader we expected to be different from Bush and Cheney, to become them in such an ugly way?
Israel routinely assassinates alleged Palestinian militants in similar acts of state-sponsored terrorism. Those killings often extend to innocent civilians who are collateral damage from such attacks. Like the U.S., Israel never offers any evidence of the victims’ guilt other than to claim they organized this or that terror attack &/or were a “ticking bomb.” No one inside Israel, except the usual (and blessed) human rights NGO suspects, raises a hand against such murder. It is accepted pro forma as the price to be paid by a national security state. Do we in the U.S. want to become that? Do we want to become renegades from international law as the Israelis are?
Israel’s military, intelligence, and Likud government are delighted with this development. It further confirms their own draconian approach to national security. If we become as bad as they are, then they’re not so bad after all, right?
Cole further argues that there are examples of countries who’ve responded differently than either the U.S. or Israel:
As many countries, including Great Britain, Germany, Spain, and, Italy have shown, the fact that organized groups seek to engage in politically motivated violence does not necessitate a military response.
This must stop. Of course, just as in Israel, neither the courts nor the Congress will lift a finger. But I think it’s now time to bring a case in an international tribunal against the current and past presidents who both sanctioned such killings (of U.S. citizens). This must be tested in a fair tribunal. One cannot be found here in the U.S., unfortunately. But in order to bring a case before the ICC, we must exhaust the system here first. So I hope the ACLU, which has denounced this latest killing, will do so. A rejection by the U.S. courts would set the stage for an appeal to an international tribunal.
I wouldn’t mind seeing those responsible for this killing and Salah Shehadeh’s both answering to justice in the Hague. They’d be entitled to far more justice than they ever gave any of their victims.
Another misguided claim by Obama and those who embrace such acts of state terror: they don’t “break the back” of the enemy. They don’t “dismantle” Al Qaeda. There are always those who will arise to take their place. Sometimes, those who replace their predecessors are even more competent and lethal than those who came before them.
I am at the breaking point regarding Obama. I don’t see any way I can vote for him the next time around. This hurts me because in some ways all the Republican candidates would be worse, some far worse. But they, unlike Obama, haven’t betrayed their promise and their promises–the ones they made to me and voters like me to be different from the tyrants who preceded them.
This article first appeared at Tikun Olam