The news-driven hum of cyber debate has consisted of everything from kudos to President Obama and the planners who sent the hell-fire missiles into al-Awlaki’s lap, as well as cries of “unconstitutional” from the likes of Ron Paul and other libertarian purists who assert that the Al Qaeda archfiend’s civil rights were violated. My reaction was to channel the ghost of the colorfully-spoken George S. Patton and say, “good thing they killed the SOB before he could kill any more Americans.”
The killing–and I refuse to call it “assassination” because that raises al-Awlaki to a status higher than that of self-appointed goon in an organization of frenzied butchers–of the Al Qaeda boss is not without precedent. In November of 2002 Ahmed Hijazi, an Al Qaeda terrorist who held American citizenship, was killed in Yemen in a CIA-directed missile attack that was, blow for blow, almost identical to the strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki. Yemen in 2002 was no less dubious an ally then than it is now. Only 2 years prior Al-Qaeda terrorists blew up the U.S.S. Cole along with themselves in the Yemeni port of Aden. Hijazi’s killing rang of controversy for about 3 minutes, and then was appropriately forgotten as a matter of anything other than that of a dead enemy who would have killed more Americans if given the chance.
One of the most apt summaries of my thoughts about this brouhaha was written by Justice Sandra Day-O’ Conner as the majority opinion of the SCOTUS in the 2004 case of Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld; “There are times when military exigency renders resort to the traditional criminal process impracticable.”
True, Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld is a case which litigates whether or not an American citizen could be detained indefinitely without being formally charged, as goes the wartime protocol at the Guantanamo Bay Penitentiary for Very Naughty Boys. Both the majority and dissenting opinions in this case give voice to the justification for killing an individual who is an American citizen as if he were a foreign-born enemy combatant, effectively suspending the constitutional protections of his human rights. Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld does not set legal precedent for killing an American-born enemy combatant, but it argues in behalf of the extraordinary measures that are appropriate to circumstances which place lawful citizens in extraordinary danger.
The Constitution is the authority of the law, the practical assertion of human equality. But the founding documents are not devoid of those self-evident truths that place rational considerations at or above the level of purely legal actions. Is it rational to spare the life of a man who has no sentimental connection to his birthplace, and who, indeed, hates America and his fellow citizens to the degree that he has devoted his life to its destruction? To paraphrase O’Connor; “During times of national stress, when the enemies of America are determined to kill by whatever means are available, the urgency of eliminating those enemies outweighs the constitutional implications of killing one who was born on American soil. There are times when an individual, a self-identified enemy of his native country, is so dangerous a threat; a killer proven through successful terrorist attacks abroad as well as attacks thwarted in the United States, that he fully abdicates any rights to life and liberty otherwise granted him as an American Citizen.” Long story short, he frittered away the best opportunity afforded any person in this world. He turned his back on the greatest, freest nation in the history of the world. Anwar al-Awlaki was an incorrigible enemy of the United States, blood thirsty, and unrepentant. And I fully support his removal from the world of the breathing. To paraphrase George S. Patton; “We killed the poor SOB, before he could kill us.”