This week, an American citizen was executed by the U.S. government without due process. But Anwar al-Awlaki was Muslim and brown, and he said bad things about the U.S., and hence he was scary and automatically guilty of something so terrible that the otherwise sacred Constitution could be ignored. Glenn Greenwald:
No effort was made to indict him for any crimes (despite a report last October that the Obama administration was “considering” indicting him). Despite substantial doubt among Yemen experts about whether he even has any operational role in Al Qaeda, no evidence (as opposed to unverified government accusations) was presented of his guilt. When Awlaki’s father sought a court order barring Obama from killing his son, the DOJ argued, among other things, that such decisions were “state secrets” and thus beyond the scrutiny of the courts. He was simply ordered killed by the President: his judge, jury and executioner.
What’s most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar (“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections [Aklaki’s “crimes” seem to be of the free-speech variety] (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What’s most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government’s new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government. Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President’s ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki — including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry’s execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists — criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed.
The U.S. Constitution makes no allowance for times of war, or for any exigent circumstances. It does not say that its dictates may be ignored under the President’s direction. The whole point of the Constitution is to limit the power of the executive and to protect the citizens from that power. If Awlaki was guilty of the crimes the Obama administration suggested — without proof — he was guilty of, then he should have been tried for treason. The Constitution does have something to say about treason, what constitutes it, and how it shall be prosecuted.
The President ordering an American citizen killed, on his say-so alone, is not mentioned in the Constutition, and cannot be deduced from any of its clauses. It is one of the very offenses the Constitution was written to eliminate. The tyrannical “right” of a ruler to have his subjects executed is one of the reasons the American Revolution was fought. How is what Obama just did any different?
So: The U.S. is executing its own citizens without even a pretense of due process: what’s next? Time for another revolution? Should I worry that even suggesting such a thing publicly means the U.S. government is “allowed” to execute me without due process?
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