Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, September 30, 2011 9:56 pm

RIP: Anwar al-Awlaki. And impeach Barack Obama

Earlier today, at the order of the President of the United States, a missile launched from a U.S. drone killed U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamic cleric reputed to be one of the top terrorist recruiters in the world and a key figure in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

al-Awlaki had not been charged or convicted of any crime. This was an extrajudicial assassination. Moreover, IANAL, but according to people who are at the American Civil Liberties Union, the killing was ordered and carried out in violation of both U.S. and international law.

The targeted killing program violates both U.S. and international law. As we’ve seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts. The government’s authority to use lethal force against its own citizens should be limited to circumstances in which the threat to life is concrete, specific, and imminent. It is a mistake to invest the President — any President — with the unreviewable power to kill any American whom he deems to present a threat to the country.

The president’s behavior appears to be, on its face, a violation of al-Awlaki’s rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. (UPDATE: And the First Amendment, too, apparently; see SCOTUS majority opinion in Brandenburg v. Ohio.) As I just noted in another context, denying or conspiring to deny another citizen his civil rights is a felony. It was wrong when George W. Bush did it, and it’s wrong now. Accordingly, I renew my call of May 21, 2010, for President Obama to be impeached and removed from office. (UPDATE: I first called for Obama’s impeachment on 1/27/10 over this very case.)

I get that Anwar al-Awlaki was a bad actor. I get that. But he was also a U.S. citizen and, as such, unquestionably entitled to due process, which means charges, an indictment, and a jury trial if he wished to contest the charges.

When the president of the United States can singlehandedly order the assassination of a U.S. citizen without charge or trial, we’re not just on the slippery slope toward dictatorship, we’re in free fall.


  1. A U.S. citizen has been assassinated, apparently by the U.S. government, which had earlier placed him on a hit list. Washington celebrates. I suspect we will regret this precedent.

    And a contrary view from the same journal.

    al-Awlaki’s Just Demise

    “His death makes us safer. But does it also soil the robe of justice?

    That is the contention of critics who believe al-Awlaki shouldn’t have been targeted, because he’s a U.S. citizen. But as a member of a hostile force at war with the United States he deserved no more consideration than any other member of al-Qaeda. The 1942 case of the Nazi saboteurs, including one U.S. citizen, Herbert Hans Haupt, who snuck in to the United States is exactly on point. They were arrested by the FBI. But FDR detained all of them, including Haupt, as enemy combatants, tried them before a military commission, and executed them. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the president’s right to treat Haupt like his comrades.

    The conduct of warfare, including targeting decisions, is inherently an executive function. In this instance, moreover, executive war powers are bolstered by a sweeping congressional authorization of military force that contains no limitations based on citizenship or geography. We don’t ask the courts to evaluate every strike we make against Taliban or al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan or Iraq, nor do we inquire about their citizenship. “

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Saturday, October 1, 2011 1:34 pm @ 1:34 pm

  2. Fred, a military commission is at least arguably due process in time of war. But legally speaking we’re not at war with AQAP (separate group from the group that launched 9/11, which is what the AUMF targeted), and al-Awlaki was not an enemy combatant. He was a common criminal, and he didn’t even get as much due process as Herbert Hans Haupt. Sorry.

    We will regret this.

    Comment by Lex — Saturday, October 1, 2011 10:32 pm @ 10:32 pm

  3. He says

    “We should be paying closer attention. The great moral issue in war is the killing, and we are still killing, even when we do it remotely. The drone war may be entirely justified, but that is hardly a reason to stop paying attention. During World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill
    proposed to his cabinet the targeted killing of the top 150 leaders of the Nazi regime, but agonized over whether the public would accept such an action. By most counts, our drone war has killed hundreds, and probably thousands, and we accept it as a matter of course.

    This does not mean that we are callous. Probably we believe in what is being done in our name. Nevertheless, it would be a useful thing for both our country and the world were the president to put aside the reelection battle long enough to address the nation on what he has called the problem of eliminating our enemies. He should tell us, clearly and simply, what the goal of the drone war is; what ethical rules guide him in deciding whom to target; and how we will know when the war is won. Such a presidential speech would treat us as adults—and force us to debate how, and how long, we want to fight.”


    He says

    So, after a lot of thought and reflection, and the urging of Clinton and Panetta, the president decided to abandon Awlaki to the traitor’s death that he deserved. Obama decided that the constitution gave the president the power to kill those who make war against the United States, even if they are citizens.

    And, federal courts have concurred with the president. The constitution was never meant to safeguard those who would kill to overthrow it.

    The constitution was never meant to safeguard those who would kill to overthrow it.

    The Obama administration made no secret of its decision. In June 2010, then-CIA director Leon Panetta told ABC News: “Awlaki is a terrorist, and yes, he’s a U.S. citizen, but he is first and foremost a terrorist and we’re going to treat him like a terrorist. We don’t have an assassination list, but I can tell you this, we have a terrorist list and he’s on it.”

    When two CIA drones spotted Awlaki in a speeding vehicle, far from non-combatants, the weeks of careful watching were over. With a single Hellfire missile, Obama ended the life of Awlaki and another American citizen who ran al Qaeda’s English-language magazine, and thus ended the grip of the pernicious legal view that would have made the constitution a suicide pact.”

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Sunday, October 2, 2011 1:26 am @ 1:26 am

  4. [[The constitution was never meant to safeguard those who would kill to overthrow it.]]

    Bzzzzzt. Oops, wrong again! Article III, Section 3, of the Constitution clearly states:

    Section. 3.Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

    Safeguarding those who would kill to overthrow it is exactly, explicitly what the Constitution does.

    But thanks for playing.

    Comment by Lex — Wednesday, October 12, 2011 3:16 pm @ 3:16 pm

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