The Killing of Anwar al-Awlaki – Should A President Have Unchecked Authority

by Karl Gotthardt- Canadian Politics and Military Affairs Editor

Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al-Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, was killed in a joint CIA/Military Operation according to Administration officials, removing a “global terrorist” high on a U.S. wanted list.  al-Awlaki was killed by drone strike while traveling in a convoy in Yemen.  The Justice Department wrote a secret memorandum authorizing the lethal targeting of al Awlaki, according to Administration officials. While the President has the authority, the question remains whether this unchecked authority on behalf of the American people is justified.  While most military pundits and politicians on both sides of the isle hailed the killing of a dangerous terrorist, Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman and the ACLU regard the killing of an American citizen against international law and the constitution of the United States. For an Administration that was vocal against Guantanamo, wire tapping and wanted due process for Guantanamo detainees, the DOJ memorandum seems to be hypocritical.

Although Ron Paul accepted the raid and killing of Bin Ladin in Pakistan, he took objection to this killing.  Paul’s objection was based on the fact that al-Awlaki was a U.S. citizen and that he had never been indicted and that there was no knowledge of him killing anyone.

“Nobody knows if he ever killed anybody.  If the American people accept this blindly and casually, I think that’s sad.”

The ACLU said that the killing was a violation of both U.S. and International law.  Deputy Legal director for the ACLU, Jameel Jaffer,  said that the governments authority to use lethal force on its own citizens should be limited to circumstances in which the threat to life is concrete, specific and imminent.

“As we’ve seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts.  The government’s authority to use lethal force against its own citizens should be limited to circumstances in which the threat to life is concrete, specific and imminent. It is a mistake to invest the president, any president, with the unreviewable power to kill any American whom he deems to present a threat to the country.”

The facts as they are known are al-Awlaki was directly involved in recruiting and planning the failed terror attempts by the “Underwear” and “Christmas Bomber”.   He has also been effective in recruiting, and persuading young Americans in joining the Al Qaeda network.  He is said to be influential in Major Hassan’s attack on Fort Hood.  Nonetheless he was never indicted.

The Obama Administration has taken the high road on water boarding, which they called torture, objected to wire tapping and, at one point, wanted to close Gitmo and give even the worst Al Qaeda terrorists due process, including a high profile trial in New York.  So the revelation of this killing of an American citizen, without due process, puts their previous stance into question.  Although they were unhappy with the term “War on Terror”, they have now used the term “enemy combatant” under the war exception clause, which grants the President this authority.

The same Justice Department that was resolved to charge those giving legal advice to George Bush, on the water boarding issue, had apparently no qualms to authorize the killing of al-Awlaki.

Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman and the ACLU are not so far of the mark though.  It seems that it would be prudent to put checks and balances on the President, any President, to ensure that someone outside the Administration has a look at these decisions.  This could probably be done with a court order.   Time was not of the essence in this instance.    al-Awlaki has been on the kill list for some time, which gave ample time for such an order.   This must certainly be worthy of consideration.

About the Author

Karl Gotthardt - Politisite Managing Editor Maj. Gotthardt is a Retired Military Officer with 35 years service in the Canadian Armed Forces. He spent most of his time in the Military in Infantry Battalions. Karl took part in training for Afghanistan as an Operator Analyst with the Canadian Maneouvre Training Centre. Karl is a qualified military parachutist and military free fall parachutist. He earned his U.S. Master Jump Wings in Fort Benning, Georgia. Karl enjoys working with horses for the last 24 year. He owns six. He has experience in breeding, training and of course riding.Karl was born in Germany and is fluent in both English and German and he speaks enough French to "get in trouble". Karl has written or writes at NowPublic, All Voices, Tek Journalism and many others.

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