There were some responses to my post on the topic of state-sanctioned murder, with defenders of the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki saying the usual things, that the US is at war with al Qaeda and since al-Awlaki was supposedly a leading member of that organization, Obama was justified in ordering his killing. It is now being reported that another US citizen was killed in the attack but since he was in the same car as al-Awlaki he was presumably a Very Bad Person Who Also Deserved to Die, since the bar for killing anyone has become so low.
It should be pointed out that all the claims of al-Awlaki’s importance, his supposed links to various actions, have come almost entirely from anonymous government sources in leaks to the media, with little or no evidence provided in support. There has been no attempt whatsoever to follow the normal procedures of even starting the process of establishing guilt, including the most minimal ones like issuing an indictment. But of course those things are now seen as the quaint obsessions of pedants, to be readily discarded in our lust for the blood for whoever happens to be the current Enemy of the People.
Of course, foreigners have long been considered entirely expendable in the Great War on Terror, in which hundreds and thousands now lie dead. We have already decided that the president can pick up people anywhere in the world, hold them indefinitely without access to family or lawyers, torture them, and create kangaroo courts with guaranteed convictions for those occasions when we want to create a facade that we still have some sort of legal system operating. What al-Awlaki’s killing has done is crossed a boundary that says that Americans overseas can also be summarily killed. That is progress of a macabre kind, that no nationality exceptions exist.
The only boundary that has not been crossed is the president’s right to murder US citizens within the US itself. But this is a mere technicality. It looks like all Obama has to do to cross even that line is churn out massive amounts of propaganda to convince the public that some person is a public enemy and then the entire military machine of the US, plus the FBI and the police, will be put into operation to carry out his execution orders. And the people will cheer when the execution is carried out because they will have been repeatedly told (by the president of course) that a Very Bad Man Who Wanted to Harm Us ‘has received justice’ and that our glorious and benevolent leader has saved us from that fate without wasting tax-payer money with frivolous concerns about legality and morality.
Is all this legal? Who cares? Laws and due process and the constitutional guarantees of protections of life and liberty are the concerns of wimps who don’t understand that We Are At War With a Mighty Enemy Who Seeks to Destroy Us, even though estimates of their number are pitifully small and they are scattered about the globe and poorly armed. We must fear them because those people are Evil Incarnate and are devious enough to find a way to take over the entire US and enslave us all.
But for those who have some niggling qualms about whether we are acting within the rule of law, don’t worry. Of course it is legal! Why, the president’s own justice department has issued a ruling saying it is legal, so that’s all right then. Actually it did not actually issue such a ruling. What it did was anonymously leak a story to reporters that such a ruling existed somewhere.
The Justice Department wrote a secret memorandum authorizing the lethal targeting of Anwar al-Aulaqi, the American-born radical cleric who was killed by a U.S. drone strike Friday, according to administration officials.
The document was produced following a review of the legal issues raised by striking a U.S. citizen and involved senior lawyers from across the administration. There was no dissent about the legality of killing Aulaqi, the officials said.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. The administration officials refused to disclose the exact legal analysis used to authorize targeting Aulaqi, or how they considered any Fifth Amendment right to due process.
But hey, these days, that’s all we need, right? We have got used to being informed by those infallible, authoritative, and impartial sources, the anonymous government official, that things are being done in our name according to secret policies that we cannot be told about but that we must have faith in our great and benevolent leader that he always acts in our best interests. That’s the new democracy, folks!
Let’s look at the state of play. We have now reached the stage where the president has the sole power to (1) decide when we are at war; (2) decide with whom we are at war; (3) decide where the battlefield is (the whole world, apparently); (4) decide who is deserving of summary death; (5) use the entire police and military apparatus to carry out the murder; (6) judge whether his own actions are legal; and (7) keep everything secret.
Woe unto anyone who has the temerity to cross this mighty ruler. He can find himself declared to be an Enemy of the People and crushed like an ant or blasted out of existence by a drone, along with any other unfortunate persons who happen to be in the vicinity. And the people will cheer. The despots of the past could only dream of having such powers.
My question to those who think that all this is perfectly fine and morally justified is whether they think, now that they have abandoned the constraints of the constitution, that there exist any limits whatsoever on the president’s power. Is there anything that he cannot legally do in the War on Terror?