The problem is the 5th amendment of our constitution. It says,
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation
In basic terms, this means that the government can’t kill a citizen of this country without due process of law.
But the government just did this in the case of the Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
There is strong circumstantial evidence that this cleric encouraged several people who attacked or attempted to attack US citizens. Those included some of the 9/11 hijackers; Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused in the 2009 killings in Fort Hood, Tex.; Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalib, accused of trying to set off a bomb hidden in his underwear on a 2009 flight to Detroit; and Faisal Shahzad, who tried to blow up a car in Times Square last year.
There is also no question that his message was dangerous. He said that American Muslims had to choose between being a good Muslim and being a good American. In his mind, you couldn’t be both. He claimed that the United States was at war with Islam and Muslims had to choose a side. His support of indiscriminate killing of Americans was completely at odds with those of mainstream Muslim clerics around the world. As a result his views were widely condemned by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The problem is that there was no Grand Jury. There was no trial. There was no judge. There was no opportunity for al-Awlaki to confront his accusers, refute the evidence that they may have presented, or tell his side of the story.
That is a basic right guaranteed every US citizen. It is what protects us from the immense power that we give to our government. There are clear limits to that power, and if we don’t insist that those limits are respected, and punish those who overstep their authority, we risk losing those protections.
It doesn’t matter how strong the government’s evidence was regarding al-Awlaki’s involvement in previous attacks.
It doesn’t matter how good government intelligence was regarding his plans for future activities.
It doesn’t matter how many US lives the government feels it may have saved by this action.
What DOES matter is that our constitution says that NO ONE in our government has the power to unilaterally target an American citizen for assassination.
The end does not justify the means.
This serious erosion in civil liberties began in the Bush administration with warrantless wiretapping and the Patriot Act. It has escalated in this administration with the murder of a US citizen.
I never accepted the premise that we have to trade liberty for security during the Bush administration and I reject it during the Obama administration too.
The curious thing is that Obama’s harshest critics on the right, those who seem to see constitutional violations in the color socks that our president chooses to wear, have said nothing about this. This President should be held accountable for this significant abuse of executive power. Ron Paul has publically called for an investigation. We’ll see where that goes.
In my mind this is a dangerous step down a slippery slope taken by a President who knows EXACTLY what it means. It is a very sad day.