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 commit 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.