October 1, 2011
The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki created quite a stir on news channels and their related talk shows. The muslim extremist was mostly known for his recruiting efforts and may be implicated in previous terrorist plots although personally I haven't seen any conclusive evidence for that claim. Al-Awlaki was definitely engaged in recruiting (young) muslims to fight the jihad against the West. Videos and an entire website attest to that fact. What's so remarkable in this case is that al-Awlaki was born a U.S. citizen.
The latter has legal implications since U.S. citizens normally have this thing called due process. They are charged with a crime, they get a lawyer and have their day in court. The judge presides the case and a jury issues a verdict which can be the death penalty in some states. The thing is, while it is clear al-Awlaki was a recruiter and an extremist it is unclear how much he was involved in plotting attacks because there's no examination of evidence. It is all hidden under nation security.
What's perhaps most fascinating are the different approaches to this case on different news channels. I watched a segment on the Fox News channel and a number of commentators had no legal or moral problem with the killing of al-Awlaki. 'He was a terrorist, he took up arms against his country and therefor forfeits his rights!' Is it really that simple, or are goalposts moved because it is convenient? I always thought that laws weren't subject to great interpretation.
Lets also look at the circumstances. Al-Awlaki was killed using a missile from a drone in a foreign country, Yemen in this case. If I'm not mistaken, firing (high-tech military) weapons in foreign countries could be construed as an act of war. It could have been done with permission of Yemen authorities of course which simplifies matters, but on the other hand I've seen Pakistani officials protest when the same thing happened in their country.
My point is with this case, the legality of this and other lethal action(s) are too easily justified. I understand that the U.S. has a right to protect itself as a nation but laws are laws, and shouldn't be bend because it is convenient. Under the umbrella of 'national security' many things can be justified, that's the dangerous grey area. Today it is a U.S. citizen gone extremist abroad, tomorrow it's a liberal protesting too much against the Federal Reserve. Moving goalposts might be detrimental because it becomes a matter of 'how the shoe fits.' Perhaps something to think about.