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“Targeted Killings”


Anwar al-Awlaki, American citizen condemned to death without a trial.

For all I know, “radical Muslim cleric” Anwar al-Awlaki has done something deserving of a death sentence — but that’s what the judicial process is supposed to determine. In America we have the principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” but instead, the National Security Council has condemned this man to death based on secret evidence.

Here’s what the British newspaper the Guardian presents as the reasoning behind the decision.

    “Awlaki has been accused of encouraging terrorism in his sermons and writings. … He has been linked to Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in November, and to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day. …
    “The decision to place Awlaki on a hit list took place this year… as U.S. counterterrorism officials judged he had moved beyond inciting attacks against the U.S…. to participating in them. ‘The danger Awlaki poses to this country is no longer confined to words,’ an official told the New York Times. ‘He’s gotten involved in plots.'”

The New York Times adds this detail.

    “American counterterrorism officials say Mr. Awlaki is an operative of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula…. They say they believe that he has become a recruiter for the terrorist network, feeding prospects into plots aimed at the United States and at Americans abroad.”

So we have the word of anonymous officials that al-Awlaki is an “operative” and “recruiter” for Al Qaeda who has “gotten involved in plots.” It’s not even a question of being asked to take their word for it — the decision to target al-Awlaki was made weeks ago, and might never have been announced publicly if journalists hadn’t done a little digging.

Of course the CIA “hit list” is nothing new, as we’ve seen in numerous drone strikes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen dating back to 2002. The only advantage al-Awlaki got as an American citizen was that his death sentence was approved at the highest level, in a National Security Council review.

al-Awlaki is “linked to” two terrorist plots, one successful, one not. In the case of the Fort Hood shootings, the link seems to be limited to an exchange of emails. In the case of the Christmas bombing attempt, he allegedly met with Abumultallab in Yemen and helped recruit him into the mission. He also says hateful things in his sermons that encourage others to resort to violence — but even Rush Limbaugh has been accused of that.

Even if he directly aided and abetted the two plots mentioned — by suggesting specific targets, for example, or by supplying materiel — it isn’t clear this would earn him a death sentence in a U.S. courtroom. In the Oklahoma City bombing case of 1995, Terry Nichols got off with life in prison for helping Timothy McVeigh to assemble his bomb. In any case, the charges against al-Awlaki have yet to be proven in court.

al-Awlaki with his thick beard, foreign-sounding name, and militant Islamism may not be a sympathetic figure to most Americans, but it might be helpful to remember this famous principle from the Nazi era.

    “They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. … Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

al-Awlaki may very well be a security risk to the United States, if he is indeed part of a network that recruits, trains and arms terrorists. But the thing is, nothing has been proven. All we have is the word of anonymous officials, whose judgment we’re supposed to trust.

All U.S. citizens are entitled to the protections of the U.S. Constitution, which was designed as a check on the arbitrary use of power. Condemning someone to death without a trial, in a Star Chamber proceeding with secret evidence, is just that — an arbitary use of power.

Those who cheer this decision because it involves a “radical Muslim cleric” might ask themselves how they would feel if the same thing were to happen on American soil. Should the National Security Council approve “targeted killings” of groups like the Hutaree Militia, who allegedly plotted to kill a police officer and bomb his funeral?

I think we’re on a slippery slope here. America has to stick to the rule of law, no matter how inconvenient it may sometimes seem.

Comments

Comment from Myrtus
Time: April 8, 2010, 19:43

“All U.S. citizens are entitled to the protections of the U.S. Constitution, which was designed as a check on the arbitrary use of power. Condemning someone to death without a trial, in a Star Chamber proceeding with secret evidence, is just that — an arbitary use of power.”

Eatbees, I would agree with you 100% if he was in US custody, but if he’s out there posing a danger to anyone, regardless of what nationality he’s targeting, he has to be taken out dead or alive….preferably alive, but if he puts up a fight shooting at people, there is no other choice but to kill him.
The choice is his really.
If he’s innocent, he should turn himself in instead of hiding.

Comment from Craig
Time: April 8, 2010, 22:43

Myrtus, I agree with you again :)

eatbees,

For all I know, “radical Muslim cleric” Anwar al-Awlaki has done something deserving of a death sentence — but that’s what the judicial process is supposed to determine.

Perhaps you can get the Yemenis to arrest him and extradict him to the US to stand trial so we can at least begin a judicial process? Because it doesn’t seem very helpful to say he has to be considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law, when he’s not likely to ever find himself in a US court of law.

Comment from eatbees
Time: April 8, 2010, 22:46

Myrtus, let’s say for argument he is guilty — that he really is plotting to kill Americans. In that case he is an active danger, just like any murderer running around loose. If there is sufficient evidence for a warrant, then we certainly have the right to go after him (through the Yemeni authorities, who are cooperating) and either extradite him to the U.S. for trial, or kill him in a firefight if he can’t be taken alive. But that would require going through U.S. and international legal channels, as for example when Colombian drug lords were extradited to the U.S. What I object to is this secret procedure where people are targeted for missles falling out of the sky, based on the say-so of officials who set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner. That, it seems to me, is against both the Constitution and international law.

Comment from Craig
Time: April 8, 2010, 22:57

What I object to is this secret procedure where people are targeted for missles falling out of the sky, based on the say-so of officials who set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner. That, it seems to me, is against both the Constitution and international law.

Actually, that’s a good point. If we consider him to be an enemy combatant it is not against either the US Constitution or international law to target him. If the Yemenis are co-operating with him to the extent you say, then no doubt they already consider him an enemy combatant.

I’m not sure what the US laws are on enemy combatants who are also US citizens. Have you ever looked into that? Do we have to declare him a traitor and revoke his citizenship? Or can we just assert him to be an enemy of the United States?

Comment from Craig
Time: April 8, 2010, 23:08

If the Yemenis are co-operating with him to the extent you say…

Sorry, that was supposed to be “If the Yemenis are co-operating with *us* to the extent you say”. Freudian slip, maybe :o

And sorry for stepping on a reply that was for you, Myrtus.

To continue on that last comment, though, how would you suggest we get him back into the US to put him on trial for treason, eatbees? Do you have any suggestions? Because that would really be ideal. Trial for treason, revocation of citizenship and whatever the sentence for treason and conspiracy for… all that…

If he’s found guilty. Do we agree on that much?

Comment from eatbees
Time: April 8, 2010, 23:45

Craig,

Perhaps you can get the Yemenis to arrest him and extradict him to the US to stand trial so we can at least begin a judicial process?

Yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking. It would be different if the whole country was at war with us (Nazi Germany wasn’t about to extradict Hitler) but Yemen has U.S. military advisers and receives U.S. intelligence.

Another option would be to try him and sentence him in absentia.

If we consider him to be an enemy combatant it is not against either the US Constitution or international law to target him.

Maybe, but this whole “enemy combatant” thing has the potential to get out of hand, since the decision rests with the president’s sole authority as Commander in Chief. I’m not comfortable leaving in the hands of one man (or woman) the decision to suspend the Constitution and international law for “targeted killings.” We also have an anti-assassination policy going back to Gerald Ford, which is suspended under these orders.

In my opinion the term “enemy combatant” should be limited to those who are armed and on a battle mission at the time of engagement. This idea of blowing up terrorists asleep in their homes is such a broad definition of “combatant” as to render it virtually meaningless. The proper term for this is “consipiracy to commit murder” or “conspiracy to commit treason” in the case of U.S. citizen. This should be handled as a law enforcement matter unless, as I said, the whole nation is at war with us.

…how would you suggest we get him back into the US to put him on trial for treason, eatbees? … Because that would really be ideal. … Do we agree on that much?

I assume that if we had enough information for a “targeted killing,” we could just as well pass that information to the Yemeni authorities, help them get to the site and assure they follow through. There’s no guarantee that such a raid would get him, but then, those missiles often miss too.

And I do want to insist on an international arrest warrant, for which there is still a standard of evidence, just obviously not as high as the one required for proof of guilt.

Comment from Craig
Time: April 9, 2010, 01:15

Yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking. It would be different if the whole country was at war with us (Nazi Germany wasn’t about to extradict Hitler) but Yemen has U.S. military advisers and receives U.S. intelligence.

I was actually being sarcastic, there :)

The US has had terrorists on the FBI “most wanted” list for decades, who travel freely in some Arab countries that are supposedly our allies. When that changes, maybe we can consider treating terrorism as a purely law enforcement matter.

Maybe, but this whole “enemy combatant” thing has the potential to get out of hand, since the decision rests with the president’s sole authority as Commander in Chief.

It doesn’t seem that complicated, to me. If he’s working with Al Qaida and if he’s involved with plotting terror attacks, he’s an enemy combatant. The only way he’s not is if ALL of the allegations against him are false. If that’s the case then he needs to come forward and clear his name and as a result hopefully the US can prosecute a few government analysts who are knowingly feeding the executive branch bad information. There’s not much of a gray area, here. Either he is the man the US government says he is, or some US government employees are telling a lot of lies.

I’m not comfortable leaving in the hands of one man (or woman) the decision to suspend the Constitution and international law for “targeted killings.” We also have an anti-assassination policy going back to Gerald Ford, which is suspended under these orders.

There is no such thing as “assassination” when it comes to enemy combatants during a war. This moratorium on assassinations applies only to peaceful diplomatic relations.

In my opinion the term “enemy combatant” should be limited to those who are armed and on a battle mission at the time of engagement.

That’s not a feasible definition. That would require military forces to wait until they are under attack before responding. In other words, it would put troops on a permanent defensive footing. It would be impossible to win a war that way, because all the enemy would have to do if he was losing is not attack for a while until he was able to recoup his losses.

This idea of blowing up terrorists asleep in their homes is such a broad definition of “combatant” as to render it virtually meaningless.

No, it isn’t. If they didn’t want to get blown up in their homes, they would stay away from their homes. If they didn’t want to get blown up in their sleep, they wouldn’t sleep.

Do you think anyone stops attacking American troops just because they are in their barracks sleeping? Or out in the desert sleeping, for that matter?

And why would you even think somebody should be able to go set up car bombs during the day and then go home at night to sleep with his wife without a worry in the world about somebody trying to kill him for what he’s been doing? Does that make sense to you?

And I do want to insist on an international arrest warrant, for which there is still a standard of evidence, just obviously not as high as the one required for proof of guilt.

An international arrest warrant? For treason? That’s not an international crime :)

Even if it was, I assume you are talking about Interpol? Interpol arrest warrants don’t carry much weight. If we have an extradition treaty with Yemen then a US arrest warrant is sufficient. And if we don’t, then the whole discussion is a bit pointless anyway.

By the way, what’s your opinion of Pakistan’s refusal to turn over captured Taliban who are wanted by the US and Afghanistan? Do you think that sets any precedent when it comes to Yemen?

Comment from eatbees
Time: April 9, 2010, 01:54

Craig, my point is that the U.S. must follow its own and international laws, even when it’s inconvenient. I don’t buy this “enemy combatant” thing based on some anonymous officials’ say-so, and secret evidence. If they want to capture him they should present their evidence through legal channels, and get a warrant and/or conviction in absentia.

(I’m already starting to repeat myself, so let’s stop this. Does anyone else out there have an opinion?)

You asked about Pakistan. According to some observers, the U.S. and Afghanistan weren’t all that happy those Taliban leaders were captured, because they are key intermediaries we needed out in the field in order to negotiate our exit strategy (which will involve elements of the Taliban joining the Karzai government). In this scenario, Pakistani intelligence was afraid they would lose their influence in Afghanistan if Karzai managed to make a deal, so they staged the arrests (knowing where these leaders were all along) precisely to short-circuit American and Afghan efforts. Now if we want to negotiate with the Taliban, we will have to go through Pakistani intelligence. Not that I know if any of this is true, but it goes to show that things aren’t always what they seem.

Comment from Craig
Time: April 9, 2010, 02:46

(I’m already starting to repeat myself, so let’s stop this. Does anyone else out there have an opinion?)

Agreed. I don’t have much more to say about this one either :)

About Pakistan:

You asked about Pakistan. According to some observers, the U.S. and Afghanistan weren’t all that happy those Taliban leaders were captured…

I read that story on the BBC a couple weeks ago, but in the version I read it was the UN that was unhappy with Pakistan for arresting their Taliban contacts. As far as I know, US policy is still to kill Taliban whenever possible. Also, I doubt US and Afghanistan would have been so upset about Pakistan not being willing to turn them over (to the point we made some implied accusations) if we didn’t have a problem with Pakistan hanging onto them. Why would we have a problem with Pakistan hanging onto them? Well, I think it’s because we continue to believe that Pakistan is playing a double game where it wants to be seen fighting the Taliban, but still retain the Taliban as a useful strategic tool against India and Iran.

And I do think that there’s some similarity there in regards to Yemen and AQ, seeing as how they have a civil war going on where the opposition is Shiite.

…because they are key intermediaries we needed out in the field in order to negotiate our exit strategy (which will involve elements of the Taliban joining the Karzai government).

I don’t believe the US needs an exit strategy. We just need an exit. If we did have an exit strategy we wanted to put in place, it would more likely involve Iran and India than Pakistan and the Taliban. Pakistan and the Taliban is what was running Afghanistan before we invaded. It would be damn embarrassing if we ended up not only failing, but actively SUPPORTING the very people we went into Afghanistan to overthrow, eh?

But since I don’t support trying to start a proxy war in Afghanistan as we head for the door, I don’t think we need an exit strategy. We were betting on Karzai and that hasn’t worked out. End of story.

Comment from Myrtus
Time: April 9, 2010, 08:43

Eatbees, my previous answer is purely based on choosing public safety first from a law enforcement point of view. Even if he’s only a suspect based on an anonymous tip, he has to be tracked down and the use of force has to be authorized based on the level of danger he is (suspected of) posing to the public.
There are a couple of reasons why he went into hiding.
1. He’s guilty of actively participating in causing harm to others, so he goes into hiding trying to evade justice.
2. He’s not guilty, but he fears for his life and he’s not turning himself in, because he knows he doesn’t stand a chance when the US authorities already find him guilty by association with terrorists who are known to have caused harm to others or tried to.

Either way he’s screwed.

But he still has many options to do the right thing. He can start by getting a good lawyer to negotiate on his behalf or he can send a note to Aljazeera or whatever media outlet of his choice, explaining his position and take it from there.
I’m sure once the media attention focuses on his case, the US will be forced to do everything possible to avoid a fiasco and let justice prevail.

“If they want to capture him they should present their evidence through legal channels, and get a warrant and/or conviction in absentia.”

If we were dealing with local organized crime, yes, maybe. But such is clearly not the case here.

If that evidence includes disclosing information that implicates other suspected terrorists it wouldn’t make sense to go that route you’re suggesting and send them on the run too. We’re dealing with a global menace here, everyone is at risk. The main objective is to eliminate threat to public safety, especially when you’re dealing with (possible) terrorists.
Terrorists are known to sacrifice innocent civilians indiscriminately.
Making terrorists fear for their own lives is useless too, considering that they’re always ready to die for their bloody cause, but it sure does send a strong message that the authorities mean business and at the very least limits terrorists’ movements.

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