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The Obama administration now has a clear cut policy on how to deal with Americans abroad who appear to have joined groups opposed to the U.S. The policy at its most basic declares they may be executed at the government’s convenience. No need for messy trials or even evidence that they have committed a crime. Just suspicion that they have or might help in an attack is enough for the President to order their death. It seems Habeas Corpus in the President’s mind is a privilege to be granted when and if it is deemed convenient to do so.
So far the President has killed three Americans, at least publicly, under this ill conceived policy. Two outspoken terrorist leaders and a sixteen year old whose only apparent crime was to have a psychopath for a father. Although one can imagine that some justification might be found for the killing American born Al-Qaeda leaders but it is hard to justify killing the American boy. Abdulrahman was the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American born cleric famous for his anti western sermons and calls for holy Jihad against America. His father was executed via drone and two weeks later Obama decided to kill him also. A boy who spent much of his time with his extended family who were not members of the terrorist organization. There is little doubt that Anwar al-Awlki was an influential member of Al-Qaeda, there is also little doubt his son’s influence was of little consequence if it existed at all.
Habeas Corpus, the right not to be held for extended periods of time or punished without trial is fundamental to American and English law. Its roots go back to the Magna Carta and beyond to the roots of Anglo-Saxon common law itself. It is founded in the inalienable right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Even today President Lincoln’s unconstitutional suspension of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War hangs over the memory of this most honored of American Presidents. Of course even he did not go as far as to order executions without evidence or trial.
Now it can justifiably be said that those that join Al-Qaeda or other such groups for whom a state of war exist should probably be tried for treason. If they die fighting for America’s enemies it was a fate they risked. Those who actively help plan and/or carry out attacks on American interest are beyond the protection of even the most liberal interpretation of the Constitution. In such instances their killing can be chalked up to a kind of self-defense. The problem is what President Obama is doing goes well beyond this. Under his program mere suspicion or innuendo is enough to classify you as an imminent threat worthy of assassination.
The President’s policy amounts to proceeding with death warrants on the basis of educated guesses, or not so educated ones as the case may be. If an American unknowingly drinks coffee with someone associated with Al-Qaeda or other terrorists he could be found worthy of execution under the current guidelines.
Vigilantism has no place in American society. If a country ignores its own laws to fight the lawless what moral authority can it claim? If a president can declare who is worthy of death by merely suspecting him or her of aiding an anti-American group why not anti-government ones? If justified abroad why not within the country as well? President Obama is not only stepping over a line he has gone far beyond it. According to his Department of Justice the President does not have to recognize any authority but his own, even in matters of life and death (the full text as obtained by NBC can be obtained here).
The death of Abdulraman should have been a wake up call. The excuses the government has given only puts more doubt on the program. The President’s policy of dealing out death via remote control to Americans abroad is a a slippery slope greased with blood. One that could come home to American soil if it is not stopped on foreign ones. If Obama is allowed to sentence Americans abroad to death merely for what they might do or be doing will the policy be used inside the country next? Those that think such talk is crazy should take a look at the killing of Randy Weaver’s wife, the siege at Waco or other crimes done by Janet Reno’s Justice Department and read Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s domestic terrorist report.
Dangers to freedom don’t always strike like a venomous snake, they can just as easily work like a slow moving constrictor wrapping itself around its prey in a warm embrace of death. What may at first seem like an act of protection can ever so subtlety become an attack on ones own life and liberty. Untold dangers lurk for those who are willing to abandons the Rule of Law for the illusion of safety. For them it will be only be a matter of time until their protector becomes a tormentor and they find themselves neither safe nor free.
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Copy of an OpEd from the U.K. guardian