April 18, 2010 by Austin Raynor
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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.
Maybe it's just me but I find this 'stuff' quite frightening... The fact that an American administration has the ability to determine, at will, which American citizens should live and which should die...
I supposed we are just supposed to trust that they will be right in their decisions...