Obama wasn’t content to rest up after his illegal assassination of Osama bin Laden back in May, this time stepping up his game to take out American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki with a predator drone / Hellfire missile in Yemen. The audacity of conducting public assassinations on the territory of sovereign nations aside, the New York Times picks right up on the issue of due process:
The strike appeared to be the first time in the American-led war on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that an American citizen had been deliberately killed by American forces, a step that has raised contentious constitutional issues in the United States. It was also the second high-profile killing of an Al Qaeda leader in the past five months under the Obama administration[.]
The White House decision to make Mr. Awlaki a top priority to be hunted down and killed was controversial, given his American citizenship.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which fought unsuccessfully in the American court system to challenge the government’s legal justification for its so-called targeted killings program, which was used to take aim at Mr. Awlaki, condemned that program in reaction to the news of Mr. Awlaki’s death. “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,” Jameel Jaffer, the A.C.L.U.’s deputy legal director, said in a statement.
For what it’s worth, Foreign Policy’s blog agrees that Anwar was a US citizen due an appropriate trial. The correct course of action would have been extradition from Yemen to the US for trial.
The protests this weekend on Wall Street have led to an NYPD blockade of much of the NYSE immediate area, leaving residents unable to freely walk the streets without having to pass through illegal NYPD checkpoints and show ID and proof of residence, and discouraging NYC tourists from visiting the historic area. The New York Times writes in Wall Street Protest Begins, With Demonstrators Blocked:
[T]he demonstrators found much of their target off limits on Saturday as the city shut down sections of Wall Street near the New York Stock Exchange and Federal Hall well before their arrival. By 10 a.m., metal barricades manned by police officers ringed the blocks of Wall Street between Broadway and William Street to the east. (In a statement, Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman said, “A protest area was established on Broad Street at Exchange Street, next to the stock exchange, but protesters elected not to use it.”)
The area blocked off by the police is approximately all of Wall Street from Broadway to William:
I am personally a bit irritated at the NYPD for stepping all over the 1st Amendment, which grants protesters the right to peaceful assembly:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The police barricades make it annoying to come and go on Wall Street; having 700-1200 protesters would crowd things as well, so it’s six of one half a dozen of the other. The only thing about the latter scenario is that I would able to go home feeling proud that Americans are standing up for their rights, rather than feeling like that the police state is already upon us and there’s nothing we can do about it.
I spoke to one of the police offers last night and asked him if the police action was constitutional. He asked if wanted “protesters breaking things and wrecking your home.” I said I didn’t, but they had the right to come protest, at which point the officer said it wasn’t worth his time talking to a wiseass. Oh well….
What gave President Obama the right to order Navy Seals to invade the foreign sovereign nation of Pakistan, fly inland 50 kilometers from the Capital, and murder an unarmed foreign citizen? According to Reuters, “‘this was a kill operation,’ U.S. national security official [said], clarifying no desire to capture Osama bin Laden alive.” In the NY Times article New U.S. Account Says Bin Laden Was Unarmed During Raid, they clarify:
Bin Laden’s wife, who was with him in the room, “rushed the U.S. assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed,” said the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, reading from the brief account, which was provided by the Defense Department. “Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed.”
Despite expecting Bin Laden to put up a fight, Mr. Brennan said the assault team had made contingency plans for capturing, rather than killing him. “If we had the opportunity to take Bin Laden alive, if he didn’t present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that,” he said.
After the atrocities of World War II, there were held a series of military tribunals called the Nuremberg Trials, where German leadership was tried under doctrine drawn up by the occupying powers. By attempting to create and follow a criminal war-crimes procedure rooted in justice, the trials dispelled notions of “victor’s justice” and “murder by court.”
So why couldn’t we do the same with Osama? Here are two reasons why we should:
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed into law this order which stated that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” This restated Gerald Ford’s ban on political assassinations, and Jimmy Carter’s ban on indirect assassination. Of course, this does not apply to enemy combatants…
We haven’t seen any evidence that Osama was actively engaged against the United States; when he was confronted by Navy Seals, he was unarmed. He should therefore have been accorded protection as a prisoner of war, fairly treated, and granted a fair trial. Instead he was assassinated.
I’d like to leave you with this quote from Reason’s Did the killing of Osama bin Laden violate U.S. law?:
“We’re violating our basic values and our basic principles, which is that we accord everybody due process and we don’t engage in summary executions,” argued libertarian Fox Business Channel host Judge Andrew Napolitano. “Justice is not a summary execution by a Navy SEAL in your bedroom.”
The Economist’s obituary of Osama bin Ladin is also worth reading.
Update: In the LA Times article “Osama bin Laden’s son says U.S. broke international law ‘if’ his father is dead”, Omar bin Ladin says “We are not convinced on the available evidence in the absence of dead body, photographs, and video evidence that our natural father is dead.” Omar also accuses the US of “breaking international law by killing the unarmed terrorist leader without a trial.”