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.
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.”
Today is the 8th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York against the World Trade Center. On September 11, 2001 suicidal jihadists flew fully fueled airplanes into the World Trade Center, the pentagon, and other targets. America’s most gut-wrenching 21st century moment cost 3,000 lives, and permanently scarred the memories of New Yorkers:
In light of the anniversary, it’s worth spending some time to ask yourself “what has America done to make them hate us so much?” Consider the recent imperialist unjust wars fought in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and the illicit actions of the CIA around the world, or the hundreds of military bases we maintain in other countries. The aid dollars we dole out to dictators to preserve the status quo, our arbitrary tariffs and immigration policies that alienate foreigners, and the eroding of Americans’ own civil liberties in the name of “freedom” and the “war against terror.”
America was once respected as a nation of justice, wisdom, and opportunity. Perhaps over time the Obama administration can repair America’s reputation.
“So, let’s imagine how [the September 11th attacks] could have been worse for example. Suppose that on September 11, Al-Qaeda had bombed the White House and killed the President, instituted a murderous, brutal regime which killed maybe 50,000 to 100,000 people and tortured about 700,000, set up a major international terrorist center in Washington, which was overthrowing governments all over the world, and installing brutal vicious neo-Nazi dictatorships, assassinating people. Suppose he called in a bunch of economists, let’s call them the ‘Kandahar Boys’ to run the American economy, who within a couple of years had driven the economy into one of the worst collapses of its history. Suppose this had happened. That would have been worse than 9/11, right? But it did happen. And it happened on 9/11. That happened on September 11, 1973 in Chile. The only thing you have to change is this per capita equivalence, which is the right way to look at it. Well, did that change the world? Yeah, it did but not from our point of view, in fact, who even knows about it? Incidentally, just to finish, because we [the U.S.] were responsible for that one.” — Noam Chomsky.