Earlier this month, American forces, with the authorization of the President, assasinated an American citizen without a trial or any form of due process. Regardless of what that citizen was alleged to have done, the assertion that an expedited execution is within such murkily defined powers is troubling.
We now know that American militants like Anwar al-Awlakiare placed on a kill or capture list by a secret panel of senior government officials, who then inform the president of such decisions. None of the panel's work is kept in a public record and more troubling, there appears to be no law establishing its existence or any rules that are imposed upon it.
After Awlaki, a U.S. born minister with alleged terrorist connections, was added to the list, he was targeted and killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen. The gist of the story being given to the American people is that Awlaki was a terrorist who presented a threat to American saftey, and he's now dead. That's all you need to know.
Awlaki may indeed have been just that – or perhaps not. That's the purpose of the justice system and before we take one single step down a very uncertain path in which our rights as American citizens are so easily cast aside because some secretive panel puts us on a list, we'd better think long and hard. Such a door, once opened, is not easily closed. And even if this policy started with the best of intentions, it could too easily be used for more nefarious purposes, should those with such extreme power be so inclined – the very reason such extreme power has not been a part of our government structure.
Awlaki clearly appeared to be a dissident who gave angry sermons designed to incite wrath against the United States government. But the administration claims he then crossed over to the operational side of al-Qaeda's forces, planning and helping to orchestrate terrorist acts, which is why they say he became a target. The first seems to have been clearly proven, But even officials acknowledged that the evidence for operational involvement was somewhat patchy.
The Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU were both reportedly willing to represent al-Awlaki to contest his place on this secret list, but were denied permission from the administration, via the Treasury Department, establishing a precedent that once a name arrives on the list, the evidence alleged to land it there is not subject to examination or refute.
Such extra-judicial measures are what we've been taught to expect from the most despotic regimes on the planet – the very ones we often ask our young to risk their lives fighting so that they may no longer persecute their enemies and purge dissent. How long will it be before the line is blurred right here at home and such power is used to quash protest of the status quo, especially if it continues to become less inclusive?
When I listened to the press conference below, it was too easy to imagine what had once been unthinkable. Johnny had to go. We had no choice. He was an enemy combatant. We found plans to do terrible things on his computer. Maybe the speaker holds up a shiny hard drive and waves it for the crowd. But Johnny's parents don't buy it. He just didn't like the way things were going and thought Americans should band together and create change.
There might be a long step from Anwar al-Awlaki to our mythical Johnny – or there might not. Without a trial, or the opportunity to examine evidence during discovery and then challenge it, justice is whatever a secret panel says it is. I find that very discomforting. We've been told for quite some time that we need to become more competitive with China. In this regard, it appears that we have.
Dennis Maley is a featured columnist and editor for The Bradenton Times. An archive of his columns is available here. He can be reached at email@example.com. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook by clicking the badge below.
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