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Obama Authorizes the Murder of an American Citizen

April 18, 2010
 by Austin Raynor


With his executive order authorizing the CIA to assassinate an American citizen, Barack Obama has done immense damage to the American system of checks and balances and due process.

Early this month the Obama administration issued an executive authorization for the CIA to locate and assassinate Muslim-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico, spent years in the U.S. as an imam, and is now in Yemen hiding from the agents of his own government.

Counterterrorism experts contend that Al-Awlaki has shifted from merely “encouraging” terrorist attacks on the U.S. to actually “participating directly” in them. He has been linked to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the “Underwear Bomber”) and Nidal Malik Hasan (the Fort Hood shooter). Intelligence officials believe he is serving as a recruitment operative for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Also crucial to the situation is the fact that al-Awlaki is not on a battlefield. An American citizen who enlists in an enemy army and engages in combat with American citizens on the battlefield cannot be afforded due process unless he is captured. There is no expectation that due process be afforded when the individual in question is killed in direct combat. But this is not the case with al-Awlaki.

The power to kill American citizens without trial, on the condition that they are suspected of terrorist activity, was first granted to the CIA (and the military) by President Bush shortly after 9-11. However, a former senior legal official in Bush’s administration has confirmed that Bush never actually employed this authority.

Obama’s action is both outrageous and shameful. To murder an American citizen without trial and away from the battlefield undermines the rule of law upon which this country was founded. It is also unconstitutional (and thus illegal): the Fifth Amendment states that “[n]o person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Obama’s total disregard of human and constitutional rights in this instance is appalling. The authorization for assassination came directly from the executive branch without any judicial or institutional checks whatsoever. The ability to murder an American citizen on the mere suspicion of wrongdoing is not a power that should be entrusted to any ruler.

But, like Bush before him, Obama holds the view that a person’s procedural rights may be bypassed merely because of the type of crime he is suspected of committing. This is also the rationale for Obama’s continued illegal detention of “enemy combatants.” But in the American system you are innocent until proven guilty, regardless of the crime of which you are suspected.

This gross violation of due process is reminiscent of East Germany, or the former Soviet Union. There is no place for such totalitarian oppression in the United States. Because the power extends beyond the battlefield, the government could conceivably kill you in your own bed, or while you had dinner with your family.

There are virtually no limitations on this power. “Suspicion of terrorism” does not constitute a standard. Under this doctrine anyone could conceivably be murdered by the government at any time. How long until political opponents and dissidents are singled out for assassination?

Those on the far right have come out in favor of Obama’s assassination policy because, at last, he has proven that he is not “soft” on terrorism. But such a perspective is disastrously short-sighted. What if this power were turned against them? Or you? Or me? There are no checks. There is no oversight. A government armed with the power to murder its citizens poses a far greater threat to liberty than terrorists like al-Awlaki ever will.

Whether or not al-Awlaki is guilty is beside the point. The problem with the government’s action is that the executive has completely overridden the system of checks and balances central to our constitution. By granting itself this power, judging the suspect guilty, and carrying out the execution, the executive branch has made itself the legislator, the judge, the jury, and the executioner.

Obama’s hypocrisy in this affair is difficult to fathom. During his campaign he responded to a questionnaire distributed by The Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage; one of the questions was: “[d]oes the Constitution permit a president to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?”

Obama replied, “No. I reject the Bush Administration’s claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.” Yet, somehow, he now believes not only that the President has the power he denied to Bush but also the power to murder American citizens without charges.

The lack of media coverage is similarly shocking. For years the liberal media howled about Bush’s human rights abuses but now that Obama has surpassed even his predecessor in his contempt for the rule of law the media remains silent. Where is the outrage? Where is the intellectual integrity? Obama’s lapdogs in the media do us no favor by failing to focus on this significant lapse of principle.

Murder by a government of its own citizens is a hallmark of a totalitarian state. It is appalling that such a power could be claimed as legitimate by an American president. Obama’s egregious violation of the Constitution and the rights of his own people is unacceptable and disgusting. With this executive order Barack Obama himself has added another serious threat to our freedom and security.

Related Content:

Liberty or Death - Austin Raynor
Due Process and the War on Terror - Austin Raynor
Negotiating Face in Vietnam: American Neorealism and Face-Negotiation Theory - Kimberly Ruff

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User Comments:
Obama Authorizes the Murder of an American Citizen, on 4/18/2010 at 9:35am, said:

Austin Raynor wait until you swallow radioactive poison from Anwar al-Awlaki or worse let him in INTO OUR COUNTRY WITH SOME DECO VEST.

DG, on 4/18/2010 at 4:15pm, said:

(Reference to Obama stating 'we are at war', targeting Al-Qaeda leader with drone attacks.)

(Madison Debates Tuesday August 17, 1787, make versus declare war)

(Al-Awlaki has been declared an enemy combatant in a war that was not declared by Congress. Is he subject to the gentle administrations of a Hellfire missile delivered by drone, or is he a criminal?)

Would it be possible for Congress to declare war on a nation not shown as a unique geopolity? In Webster's Dictionary for nation is given as archaic to include Group or Aggregation.

Without the declaration of war, are Al-Qaeda criminals or enemy combatants? The Madison debate on 'make war' shows the distinction between defending from attack and making war. Seems someone trying to blow up a bomb in December or seeking material for radiological weapons are sure signs of a need for defense.

It speaks to either inability or helplessness that in the 8 1/2 years the United States can't successfully finish defending itself. The underlying problem being that war is intended to fought against a geopolity while a guerrilla war is fought within one (or more than one) with no identifiable battlefield, no order of battle.

In the face of the inability to protect the people of the United States in the face of threats not countered by strict Constitutionalism, should be we surprised that the holes left by the founding fathers as escape clauses are exploited?

A state of war exists in the defense from attack, albeit not from invasion. The major shortcoming we see is Congress has not declared war while the last two Presidents have, in repelling a foreign attack that has gone on all too long.

You could note that in the event of a nuclear war the opposing national command authority wouldn't be targeted under the theory that they would be the ones able to halt a nuclear exchange. In guerrilla war leaders are responsible for instigating or enabling 'terrorist' attacks and would be legitimate targets.

While I wouldn't personally endorse Senator Dole's liberal definition of 'weapons of mass destruction', there must be some threshold between criminality and war. Mr. Al-Awlaki appears to have crossed that threshold even as has the United States response to attack crossed the threshold between fighting crime and making war in defense from attack.

There is of course the ancillary question as to whether or not the CIA should be waging armed conflict with drones and missiles, being a civilian agency.

W.Fightmaster, on 4/18/2010 at 10:09pm, said:

Another rascist media site - you guys are sinking America, not Obama.

Brian Wadley, on 4/29/2010 at 2:09pm, said:

I'm a little concerned about this article. The concern I have is that terrorists wage ware on battlegrounds unidentified by traditional warfare. When at war against a terrorist cell the enemy combatant very rarely stands on one side of a field shooting a gun toards the other as historical warfare was payed out.

In that context, how can we say that operating as a recruiter and "participating directly" in a terrorist cell that the United States is directly at war with is not a case of being an enemy combatant?

This is made even more difficult to discuss due to the inability to truly call this a legal war. As stated above, this has been declared a war by two presidents, but not by either house. So are there enemy combatants in this situation in a legal sense? I'm not a lawyer, so hopefully one will chime in.

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