Anwar al-Awlaki is Dead, and So Is the Constitution

It’s hard for me to clearly express my anger over the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. There’s a discussion at the League about it, with Jason Kuznicki calling it “something to go Galt about” and some others arguing that it’s ok because al-Awalki committed treason, and it’s just a battlefield action against someone who is fighting against his own country.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things. First, the Constitution defines treason as a crime, which means there’s a criminal procedure for it, which wasn’t followed. Second, al-Awlaki was killed by the CIA, which purposefully targeted him for death; not by the U.S. military on the field of battle.

I can no longer pretend even half-hearted support of Obama. He will stand in history as the first president to claim the authority to execute American citizens without benefit of any due process whatsoever. And make no mistake–he did not limit his claim to Americans on foreign soil. There is no proper word for this other than evil. That the evil is committed by a man so wholly average does not make it less evil. As Hannah Arendt showed, we should not think of evil as something that terrible and powerful men do. Rather, evil is banal. Obama is, who can deny it now, banal. His acceptance of the powers of his office as they have been extended by his predecessors is banal. Were he something other than banal he might be a great enough man to reject that power.

We’ll go on living our lives as though nothing has changed, but everything has since 9/11. We now shuffle quietly past TSA agents, afraid to protest in any meaningful way, and how is that different from citizens of an authoritarian country shutting up and looking studiously at the ground every time security forces walk by? We accept the idea of designated protest zones that tell us where and when it is ok to petition the government for redress of grievances. We accept the police engaging in paramilitary operations against the citizenry. And now we not only accept, but even praise, our government engaging in an extrajudicial execution of an American citizen. That’s the polite analytical term–the real term, as Jason Kuznicki insists–is death squads.

We’ll pretend America is still a free country. We’ll go to the polls and cast our votes thinking it will matter on the big issues. But all we’ll be voting for is which guy will exercise the power to execute us at his whim, because no matter who wins, this is now an accepted power of the presidency, and it will never be renounced; it will only be further extended.

To hell with Obama. I expected him to be less civil liberties oriented than he claimed, once the power of the presidency was in his hands, but I didn’t expect he would claim the power to be an American citizen’s sole judge, jury, and executioner. If I thought I regretted my vote for Clinton in ’92, it’s nothing compared to how much I regret my vote for this son-of-a-bitch.

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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12 Responses to Anwar al-Awlaki is Dead, and So Is the Constitution

  1. James K says:

    It seems to me even if it had been the military that did the killing that still wouldn’t work. As I understand it al-Awlaki’s primary role in Al Qaeda was as a recruiter and propagandist. That’s not a military target, and it also means that he was killed for criticising his government. That only makes the whole thing more chilling.

  2. AMW says:

    James H,

    My reaction was similar in nature if less keenly felt. Up to now I haven’t liked many of Obama’s policies, but I haven’t had any real animosity toward his presidency. Now I say screw the guy; he’s got to go in 2012.

    James K,

    What’s airport security like in NZ?

  3. James K says:

    Recently we started having to go through metal detectors (no removing clothing, just walk through the archway and put your bag through the scanner) on domestic flights between our bigger airports (Auckland and Wellington mostly), but that’s as I understand it because your government insists that any airport that sends flights to the US must also screen domestic passengers, or something like that. On domestic flights to other airports, there is no screening.

  4. Lance says:

    I was disgusted by the act.

    However, playing Devil’s advocate what were Obama’s choices in dealing with Awlaki? Sending a special forces team to capture him would be near impossible and also illegal with out permission from the Yemenis . Also Awlaki has done far more than just “recruiting”.

    Some are also claiming that the executive branch’s procedures in dealing with al-Awlaki constitute “due process”.

    I find those arguments idiotic and designed to justify murdering a US citizen. Would it also have been OK to send a predator drone to Kansas to fire a Hellfire missile into the house where Terry Nichol’s and Timothy McVeigh were planning the Oklahoma City bombing?

  5. AMW says:

    We could have tried al-Awlaki for treason in absentia.

  6. Dr X says:


    I actually investigated that possibility yesterday. I don’t have the ruling handy, but no can do. In the U.S., to try someone in absentia, the accused must have been available for the arraignment. That is, they are at arraignment, they disrupted the arraignment proceedings and were removed, or they fled after physical arrest before the arraignment occurred. Under any of those circumstances, a trial in absentia can proceed. This is American law. I don’t know the rules anywhere else.

    That may be why he wasn’t charged with anything in the first place. If he had been charged, that might imply that he was entitled to ordinary due process, which would mean that an honest attempt at capture and arrest would have to take place. Then, if he escaped or fled, a trial an absentia could proceed. But by not charging him, the govt could claim (wrongly I believe) that he falls outside the requirements required by American criminal law. A different form of due process (administrative rather than judicial) would pertain. I know, it’s bullshit.

    Incidentally, if they could have tried him for treason in absentia, they probably would have, because he could have subsequently been stripped of his American citizenship. While a treason conviction doesn’t require that the convicted is stripped of citizenship, treason is one of the bases for stripping American citizenship, if the govt so wishes to pursue that course.

  7. Matty says:

    Did I just submit a comment that fell into a hole in the internet or is it me?

  8. Matty says:

    OK that one went through so it was me.
    What I was saying that giving the executive power to order an execution at will destroys more than the US constitution it does away with the whole rule of law.
    When can someone be executed? When the President says so
    What can they be executed for? Whatever the President says
    Who decides if the President is right? The President

    As I believe Jason mentions the power of the executive to punish without reference to the law hasn’t been accepted in the English speaking world since Magna Carta.

    The only question left is how can this be stopped?

  9. AMW says:


    I suppose the next logical step is when a future president realizes that he can detain a U.S. citizen (by declaring him an enemy combatant) and then execute him on U.S. soil. We’ll have a really nice parallel justice system going then, don’t you think?

  10. Matty says:

    If this goes step by step you’re probably right but it could be worse. If the principle established by al-Awlaki holds then the only thing stopping any President from ordering death squads to simply open fire on a crowded street is that he doesn’t feel like doing so.

  11. When a person is clearly involved in acts of war against the United States of America, he or she has, by such actions, resigned their citizenship. I think a case can be made for that.
    And, while the war continues, the person is a clear and present danger to be dispatched on sight.
    I think a Constitutional case MIGHT be made of that.

  12. James Hanley says:

    When a person is clearly involved in acts of war against the United States of America, he or she has, by such actions, resigned their citizenship.

    From Article III of the U.S. Constitution:

    Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the overt act, or on confession in open court. (emphasis added)

    The Constitution preemptively deals with this issue, and it has been wholly ignored.

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