Saturday, October 1, 2011

I’ll not shed a tear over Anwar al-Awlaki loss of his Fifth Amendment right to due process

When American citizens take up arms against their country, they apparently cease to receive the judicial protections normally accorded citizens of that democracy. As aptly put in today’s National Post’s editorial, “Citizenship is not an immunity card against reprisal for those who  al awlakicommit acts of war, or assist others in so doing, against their governments.”

We are, of course, referring to the recent killing in Yemen of Anwar al-Awlaki (pictured), the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, by missile fire from a drone believed to be operated by the CIA.

Many of us applauded when President Obama announced that U.S. clandestine forces had assassinated Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. But some see this as being different because al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico; he was not a foreign national like bin Laden. And they believe he deserved to be treated like any other American citizen, that is, he had a Fifth Amendment right to due process.

According to a report in The Washington Post, his assignation had been sanctioned by a secret memorandum written by the U.S. Justice Department. The memorandum came after a review by senior administration lawyers, who considered the legal issues raised by the extra-judicial targeting of a U.S. citizen. There was a general consensus, apparently, regarding the legality of al-Awlaki’s killing.

Some Americans already believe too many of their countrymen too easily allow their rights to be sacrificed on the alter of national security and offer too little protest when extra-judicial actions are taken by the state where al-Qaeda and Islamist Extremist terrorism are concerned. How must they be feeling now that they’ve reached the point where a president can order the pre-emptive killing of U.S. citizens overseas as a counterterrorism measure?

This fact, I suppose, should give us all a sense of discomfort, especially when rapists and pedophiles of the worst kind along with serial killers have their constitutional rights protected at great expense and with great danger to law enforcement officers, yet traitors can apparently be executed by presidential edict.

But should I care? Is this a real injustice?

Notwithstanding my sense of unease at the foregoing, I acknowledge we are living with a world order that does not fit easily with many of our traditional legal norms. Our battlefields are not always the traditional ones we once knew, such as those in the Second World War or even those in Iraq or Afghanistan where the enemy seldom wore military uniforms and often passed off themselves as innocent civilians.

Anwar al-Awlaki was an enemy of the United States in every respect. He was a senior leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen. He has been connected to three recent attacks against the United States. U.S. officials say his e-mails inspired accused Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Hasan. al-Awlaki helped plan the failed Underwear Bomb attack, and was part of the plot to bring down cargo planes with explosives inside computer printers.

The current war we wage against al-Qaeda, and Islamist Extremist terrorism in general, is more alike a “hot” version of the Cold War between the West and the communist world. Our enemies don’t were uniforms and have co-opted many of our own citizens and are using them against us.

Every nation has a right of self-defence, a right well established under international law. And it is prudent for us to provide our government officials and armed forces the protection of a legal umbrella under which they can execute appropriate responses to this imminent danger in which we who live in Western democracies find ourselves.

When citizens take up arms against their country and/or its allies, they should be deemed to have denounced their citizenship and all the rights and privileges that go with it. So I’ll not shed a tear over Anwar al-Awlaki loss of his Fifth Amendment right to due process. We still have a firm hold on the moral high-ground in our war with Islamist Extremist terrorism.



© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.


  1. Democracies are governed by the rule of law. It is a difficult choice to allow extrajudicial killings by the military against it's citizens. What this really shows is a lack of confidence in the judicial system. Even at Nuremberg the enemy generals were not summarily executed by the military. A citizen has rights under the Constitution. One is not to be deprived of their life by the government without a trial. I have heard lots of Conservative commentators declare their right of free speech or right to bear arms. Even anti-abortionists claim a right to life. Where does it end if the military can kill any citizen it believes is an enemy of the state?

  2. Forgot to mention...the right of self-defense does apply to ones own citizens. Otherwise every cop killer, Martin Luther King or Lee Harvey Oswald-type will be hunted down for killing by the military.

    I don't think Conservatives want to argue that international law trumps domestic constitutional rights.

  3. Anon Oct. 2 1:41 a.m.,

    Your comment seems contradictory and makes my case nicely.

    Your words: "Conservative commentators declare their right of free speech or right to bear arms."

    Yes they do and governments restrict both those rights and the courts and majority of the population continue to accept thee restrictions. Now a fairly clear-cut restriction has been placed on the Fifth Amendment right to due process.

    Your words: "Even anti-abortionists claim a right to life."

    Fat lot of good it does them. We still "kill" tens of thousands of unborn babies every year simply by declaring that they are not people. So declare enemy combatants as not being citizens, regardless of their birthplaces, and they can be denied their Fifth Amendment right to due process.

    Wars are nasty affairs and we are forced to do nasty things.

  4. Contrary to popular belief, the United States was founded not as a democracy but a Republic with a Constitution and the Rule of Law. The masses of the American public no doubt, support the extra-judicial killing of this man, but like any mob, they are mindlessly swayed by their prejudices and passions. This is why a Republic with a Constitution is so vital in securing liberties and the Rule of Law. Without this we risk descent into the mindless anarchy of lynch mob rule. In the past thousands of Blacks were lynched with barbaric, atrocious torture beforehand, in the US, as a result of a similiar disregard of the Constitution. Sad that a Black President has led a 21st century lynching of al-Awlaki primarily I suspect to win the support of the common masses.