Saturday, October 1, 2011

Killing al-Awlaki has made America less Safe

The assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki has tragic consequences on the rule of law and giving due process to all individuals accused of a crime.  Not that al-Awlaki was every charged, much less given a trial, before a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) operation killed him and six others in Yemen this week (source).

While the Bush Administration was fond of kidnapping people, detaining them in military prisons indefinitely without charges, and torturing them (source), the Obama Administration seems to prefer outright assassination operations followed by hopes of higher approval ratings (source).  While most of the mainstream media and political pundits across the spectrum seem to approve of President Obama's "shoot first, justify killings later" approach, there are dissenting voices.  Notre Dame law professor Mary Ellen O'Connell summarizes her concerns of the legal slippery slope the Executive Branch is sliding down (source):
And what about within the U.S.? If the president can target suspects in Yemen, why not here?  And why just the president?  Why can’t governors order missile strikes on suspected terrorists and other criminals?  We are told with respect to targeted killing - as we were with torture - that post-9/11 circumstances require extraordinary measures.  Some of our leading ethicists countered that the absolute ban on torture must be respected as a moral imperative, regardless of the consequences.  We could say the same about targeted killing, but, as in the case of torture, it turns out that doing the moral thing is also the effective thing.
The intrepid reporting of The Nation's Jeremy Scahill is also a welcome voice of reason:

Glenn Greenwald further identifies the double standard that the political left in America seems to have with regard to presidential transgression of authority (source):
Remember that there was great controversy that George Bush asserted the power simply to detain American citizens without due process or simply to eavesdrop on their conversations without warrants. Here you have something much more severe. Not eavesdropping on American citizens, not detaining them without due process, but killing them without due process, and yet many Democrats and progressives, because it’s President Obama doing it, have no problem with it and are even in favor of it. To say that the President has the right to kill citizens without due process is really to take the constitution and to tear it up into as many little pieces as you can and then burn it and step on it.
As I have mentioned previously after the assassination of (an unarmed) Osama Bin Laden (source), this kind of extra-judicial killing is not just an international travesty but one whose domestic implications will be longstanding.  Following the assassination of al-Awlaki, the U.S. State Department has announced that Americans are in elevated danger when traveling abroad (source) - as was the case after the killing of Bin Laden.  While popular opinion seems to be "the world is a better place, and Americans are safer, after the removal of al-Awlaki," reliable intelligence sources indicate that the opposite is true.

Rather than training in the operation of stealth helicopters and assault weapons, I believe JSOC needs to be trained by any zookeeper in the use of a tranquilizer gun.  If the case for al-Awlaki's criminal actions was so strong, it should have been presented before a jury as he stood trial - not used as posthumous rationale for killing him in a missile strike as he sat eating breakfast in the Yemeni desert.

Not coincidentally, I wrote about the dangerous dehumanization of warfare waged by predator drones the day before these very same tactics were used against al-Awlaki (source).

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