Monday, October 3, 2011

Assassinating Citizens: The Death of Anwar al-Awlaki

Good morning boys and girls, ladies and gentleman, dedicated readers and trolls of The Urban Politico. Your team has been working hard for you this weekend cooking up a bit of controversy over what is widely considered a good thing. What is that good thing you ask: The death of an al-Qaida leader that’s been a bane on the existence of the United States since 2009. Still doesn’t ring a bell? How about this:

BREAKING: Anwar al-Awlaki, U.S. citizen linked to al-Qaida, has been killed.
That is the text of a Breaking News text I received Friday morning at a quarter to 5. I was at work and of course our sparsely populated newsroom sprung into action. But unlike the killing of Osama bin Laden, news I met with joyous whoops and chants (though it meant staying at work longer) this news settled on me differently. In short I felt some kind of way about it. So in my some kind of way feeling I fired of an email to the UP team saying:
“Yeah he inspired terrorists and therefore [was] a type of terrorist himself but he was still a U.S. Citizen. Is it right [that] he was assassinated by our own government? Also does this make Lupe’s statement true that America is the biggest terrorist in the world?”

This brief commentary was sent with A.P. copy of the events that transpired in Yemen. What followed my inquiry was a 33 message email chain that has left the six of us in disagreement on the actions of our government in regards to terrorism and foreign policy.
Since I started this mess you will hear my thoughts first followed by the rest of the team. Agree with me, disagree with me, agree with all of us, disagree with all of us. Take this for what it is… Six individuals trying to make sense of a world and a war that often doesn’t make any sense at all.

The Storyteller

Normally I’m pretty gung ho about al-Qaida killings and assassinations. Blame it on the business I work in. It typically isn’t until after I’ve left the newsroom, and shed my cynicism and dystopic view of the world that the events of the day settle in on me in a less Texas way … word to Rick Perry. However this is the first time that I wasn't extremely thrilled about the death of an al-Qaida leader. I blame this on Keith Olbermann.

Two years ago when the name Anwar al-Awlaki became popular in the terror hating lexicon with that of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (underwear bomber) and Nidal Hasan (Fort Hood Shooter) there was a release from the Justice department stating that al-Awlaki was wanted dead or alive. The night of the release I watched Countdown with Keith Olbermann and the larger than life pundit went all the way in on the Obama Administration about wanting to kill an American citizen – terrorist or not – without due process.
His statement is what resonates in my head regarding the death of al-Awlaki without due process. In short we (as in our country) put a hit out for one of our own just because we didn’t like his actions. We had no concrete evidence that he did or did not influence Abdulmutallab or Hasan save for his own postings on jihadist websites. There was no warrant for his arrest. He can no longer be mirandized and questioned about other terror acts in the making, and he will not stand trial for being an accessory to the attempted murders of about 150 people and the pre-meditated murders of 13 more in the two aforementioned attacks. Al-Awlaki born in New Mexico is dead for being a “suspected” terrorist; the operative word hear is suspected. Hell, Khalid Sheikh Muhammed is still referred to as a suspected terrorist for being the self-proclaimed master-mind of 9/11. (Bin Laden was the money man Muhammed the idea guy) So as you can see it bothers me that a man we pretty much know killed nearly 3,000 people on one of our country’s darkest days is still alive and kicking, and one of our own citizens is dead slaughtered in a drone strike.
In the email exchange I alluded to earlier, Shady-Grady responded:

“I think it’s beyond wrong and is the definition of incipient tyranny.”

To that I quoted a line from my favorite Aesop fable:

“The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny.”
If we take Lupe’s track “Words I Never Said” from his third album Lasers on it’s face it is incendiary. But if you know Lupe’s music you will realize it is an extension of “Little Weapon” from the second album The Cool or “American Terrorist” from the first; Food and Liquor.

The title “American Terrorist” says it all. The lyrics even more so:
A few months ago Grand_Central went in on rapper Lupe Fiasco for his incendiary comments on The O’Reilly Factor. Saying Lupe should not have said that America is the biggest terrorist in the same breath that he proclaimed he does not vote. A staunch Lupe fan I defended his comments because frankly it wasn’t the first time he said something of the such, just the first time that a mass audience listened.

camouflaged Torahs, Bibles and glorious qurans the books that take you to heaven and let you meet the Lord/ they have become misinterpreted, reasons for warfare we read 'em with blind eyes/ I guarantee you there's more there the rich must be blind because they didn't see the poor there/ need to open up a park, just closed 10 schools we don't need 'em/ Can you please call the fire department they're down here marching for freedom/ Burn down their TV's, turn their TV's on to teach 'em
This is who we are as Americans. Quick to turn a blind eye to that which we don’t understand. Quick to go to war with that which we do not understand. Prepared to remain ignorant to that which we don’t understand because it some how makes us as Americans exceptional. When in reality we are far from exceptional. We are a bunch of xenophobic, jingoistic, nationalists mobilized against a common enemy in a war that’s gone on for entirely too long and has shown no signs of ending.

My colleagues will tell you that the President and Congress swear an oath to defend the constitution and this country against all enemies foreign and domestic. I don’t disagree but what about the rest of our Constitution that gives a citizen a right to a fair and speedy trial -- Timothy McVeigh -- by a jury of his peers -- Richard Reid -- and forbades against cruel and unusual punishment even if that citizen has committed high treason; Nidal Hasan? What about that.

Is the world a safer place without Anwar al-Awlaki; yes and no. Yes in the since that he is no longer here to radicalize people against the United States. No in the sense that there will be someone to just take his place. No in the sense that if we continue our policy of war and assassination our war on terror will never end.

I don’t care how many in the end it was neither right nor just and I do believe America will suffer for it. Our reputation will suffer for it because we have proved once again we are the biggest terrorists in the world and in the end we are no better than the elusive THEM.


Just as I can't justify the use of the death penalty against US Citizens, I can't in good conscience say I am ok with the killing of al-Awlaki. However, at the same time I don't want to see another three thousand Americans perish due to senseless acts of terrorism, especially when we know the capabilities of the terrorist and have them in plain sight. Maybe if Bill Clinton wouldn't have been so distracted during his second term, he would have executed Osama Bin Laden in the same manner and we wouldn't have 9/11 or Iraq or Afghanistan.

I know there is something to be said and some concern we should have because al-Awlaki was a US Citizen. As I understood it clearly and it was reiterated on Bill Maher Friday evening; treason is a serious crime and when you commit treason you give up your rights. al-Awlaki committed treason, he joined a terrorist organization and intended to commit acts of terrorism against his own country. As The Fed pointed out, when the President is sworn into office he takes an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. President Obama was merely acting in the best interest of the country and adhering to the oath. al-Awlaki is not the first American to be charged with treason and executed. Now yes, I know I've used the word charged, which would indicate their was a trial. I understand that al-Awlaki was denied a trial and I also understand that we are living in very different times.

I am not mad with the President nor am I congratulating the President. I think that death by any means, especially at the hands of a government is unfortunate and should be avoided at all costs. I also know that The Janitor and I have to ride the New York City Transit every single day and I'm pretty sure he would agree, we wouldn't want to witness or be involved in a massive bombing of the subway system.

The Janitor

The killing of U.S. citizen/terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki raises a Constitutional case of first impression that pits the Executive Power of the Presidency squarely against the Civil Liberties of the People. In addition, it calls into question whether the Authorization for Use of Military Force ("AUMF"), which was unanimously passed by Congress as a direct response to 9/11, is Constitutional. I studied this area of the law extensively when I clerked for a judge in the NYC federal court where many of the terrorists since 9/11 have been tried and convicted, and trust me when I say this issue has no easy answer. On the one hand, you have a federal law passed by Congress to keep America safe which allows the President to basically do whatever he or she feels is necessary to kill terrorists, but on the other hand we have the 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution which basically say that, in THIS country, we don't get to spy on Americans without a warrant and we most certainly do not get to kill Americans without Due Process of law. To be clear, the text of the AUMF is as follows:

"the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."

This gives an enormous amount of power to the President that pushes us dangerously close to a dictatorship instead of a democracy. However, the AUMF is the law of the land. Meaning, the President is authorized BY LAW to take the actions that he did against al-Awlaki a few days ago. Stated differently, under the AUMF, the President of the United States (read as the entire executive branch and all of its agencies) currently has the authority to (i) label you a terrorist and then (ii) kill you. This should be a scary thought for any rationally minded person who takes comfort in the fact that the Constitution expressly forbids this kind of thing from happening to us.

The Supreme Court has chin-checked the Executive Branch on the AUMF before. See Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006) (holding 5-3 that the AUMF did not authorize the Bush Administration to create certain military tribunals which ran counter to the Geneva Convention). So it is not a stretch to conclude that even this current conservative Court will likely rule that the Due Process clause of the 5th Amendment clearly does not allow any President to circumvent Due Process in executing an American Citizen - even one that is a recognized terrorist. Until that ruling comes, however, any President that kills a U.S. citizen suspected of terrorist activity is acting within the letter of the law.


The US murdered Anwar Awlaki over the weekend. He was a US citizen. He said some unpopular things. He may or may not have been involved in criminal actions. He may have inspired other people to take criminal actions.

We'll never know for sure because you see no one ever bothered to indict him. He had no opportunity to face his accusers, review and challenge the evidence, and have his day in a court of law. Nope. He was just removed from the planet by order of the President.
Now I could have sworn that this quaint little amendment was still in effect but I guess I was wrong.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The Fifth Amendment doesn't apply if you are a called a "terrorist". Awlaki was murdered with no chance to defend himself either in court or otherwise. That's the way the Empire likes it of course, nice and clean-from its POV of course.
Now the Administration and its supporters will pull out the AUMF and claim that the President was acting under its authority. What they don't mention is that the AUMF only applies to those people who were involved in the execution of the 9-11 attacks, which Awlaki was not. Awlaki's Yemen organization didn't even exist at the time of the 9-11 attacks.
I don't think we know the whole story. And of course we don't because the US government has completely refused to make any of its so-called evidence against the man public. Think about that. The President has successfully claimed the right to kill you with no trial. That is against every conception of US law and the Anglo-Saxon heritage it's based on. This is like pre-Magna Carta ideology. That is something completely foreign to our legal system-something which like a greedy bloated parasite is sucking any justice and fairness out of the system.
It was just the other week that people were wailing and moaning the unjust execution of Troy Davis, who probably didn't commit the crime of which he was accused. Yet the very same people turn around and cheer the execution of Awlaki, who didn't even get a darn trial. To say the least, this confuses me.
Should Jane Fonda have been executed for her support of the North Vietnamese? Were the Chicago Police correct to murder Clark and Hampton? Chomsky and Parenti have been vociferous opponents of just about every US intervention over the past five decades. Should they be on a hit list?
Without separation of powers we might as well be living in an Empire. Like any other ridiculous claim this Administration has made, the time will come when the worm turns. When a future Republican Administration starts killing US citizens without warrant or trial it might be useful to remember our silence today.

The Fed

I absolutely agree with my colleagues, the Constitution is a sacred contract the citizens have with the American government. Absolutely it should be respected – no matter how broken I think the Justice System is. I agree that Americans shouldn’t be tried and punished without a FAIR trial; otherwise, we are no better than the racists in the late 1800s/early to mid 1900s who would openly have a trial just to say they did, then they would hang an innocent black person.

However, I also understand that things are not so…absolute. There are situations, for example bank robbers in a shoot out with the police, where the perpetrators have put other people into harm’s way. In situations like these, the government (i.e. the Police) has a duty – an obligation – to defend themselves and the other people, even if that self defense means killing the perpetrator. The other situation involves those who are NOT engaged in a crime that needs law enforcement but engaged in war. To me, there is a distinct difference. As we know by the Constitutional definition of “treason” a U.S. citizen can, in fact, engage in war against the United States and said citizen forfeits some rights. Even the right to counsel, which is guaranteed under the Constitution, isn’t absolute when a U.S. Citizen joins a terrorist group. It is ILLEGAL for an attorney to represent someone, without permission from the U.S. Treasury, who has been listed as a “specially designated global terrorist.” To me this signifies that National Security and the safety of U.S. Citizens trumps the individual rights of anyone; ANYONE.

Both domestic and international law support this. Not only does the U.N. allow for countries to self defend, it is also domestic law, The Authorized Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF). Now, we can argue all day on whether or not we actually LIKE this law. It’s quite possible that I would agree with you; however, it is still the law, and consistent with international law, the United States has the “inherent right to self defense.” This law does NOT exclude U.S. Citizens.
Anwar al-Awlaki was engaging in activities constantly that jeopardized the safety of the United States. The argument has been made that without a trial, how would we actually know he was a member of Al Qaeda. While a valid question, I feel as though it is a little under-thought. The U.S. has been watching al-Awlaki for well over 10 years, we know he served as a mentor to bin Laden, the spiritual advisor to 9/11 attackers. He is tied to the London bombings, the Fort Hood attack, the Times Square bomber, the Underwear bomber, the Little Rock Arkansas army recruiting office shootings, and countless other terror related atrocities. How many times must his name come up before we acknowledge his ties to Al Qaeda? Hell, treason doesn’t even require this much evidence. His actions, his choices, his allegiances determined his fate. Anwar al-Awlaki forfeited his rights! Period! We had an agreement with the Yemeni government and took him out.

Make no mistake, Anwar al-Awlaki was not killed because he was guilty of a law enforcement “crime,” a la the Oklahoma City bombers, but because he was a lethal agent of a terrorist organization who posed an immediate and consistent threat to the citizens of the United States. These threats happen often; these are real, constant, and imminent threats… just last week an Al Qaeda inspired man – the same type of inspiration al Awlaki is known for – was arrested trying to use remote controlled plans to bomb the Capital. It is real, it is out there, and it is lethal.
I understand the slippery slope this presents. We don’t want the government just running around killing folks willy nilly… but we also must be prudent. We can’t just randomly discount YEARS of surveillance, and the expertise of those whose very job it is to detect that threat and neutralize it. The experts identified al-Awalki as a legitimate threat working as a senior recruiter for Al Qaeda, a group we’ve identified as a threat to the U.S. and engaged in war. [Editors Note: Please, let’s not get into the semantics of whether or not we are at “war.” We haven’t OFFICIALLY been at war since WWII. So do we spend time arguing that Vietnam and Korea weren’t “real” wars? I doubt it.]

While there are those that don’t trust the government, we must also understand that it is their job to protect us. Who else are you going to get to do it? Blackwater? Would we believe them if they said Awlaki was a threat over the U.S. government? I tend to believe the government when they say Anwar al-Awlaki is a threat. I tend to want them to identify those folks and do something about it, and I’m not upset when they are taken out. I also lean towards NOT turning that service over to Blackwater or Morgan Freeman and his magic Loom of Fate assigning hits to Angelina Jolie for profit. No, this isn’t something that you outsource. Nor is it something that you potentially leave up to a President Bachmann – trust me, I get that – which is why the National Security Council reviewed the evidence BEFORE making the recommendation to President Obama. Folks, much smarter than I, sat down, looked at the evidence and made a recommendation.
Don’t get me wrong. I will never cheer the loss of human life, even to the betterment of my own; however, I will not frown upon the military taking out ANYone connected to attacking us on our own soil. I just wish/hope those who are passionate about the legality of killing of any U.S. citizen under ANY circumstances -- including those who have attacked us in war -- put the same type of passion towards other, more life affirming legal quagmires such as immigration and deporting immigrants who have lived their whole lives as U.S. citizens and have more respect, connection, and love for the U.S. than al-Awlaki.

Did the President over step his powers?
Did the U.S. government violate the rights of al Awlaki?
Is there ever a situation when it is okay to kill a U.S. citizen without a trial?
blog comments powered by Disqus