Anwar al-Awlaki: Is killing US-born terror suspects legal?
Civil libertarians and some constitutional scholars say the targeted assassination of US citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki – even in war time – cannot be justified. The Obama administration says it's a matter of necessary self defense against terrorist attacks.
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Does it skirt the right of legal due process guaranteed under the US Constitution? Or in a time of what has been called the “global war on terror,” is the killing of those urging attacks on their fellow Americans in the name of Islamic jihad a justifiable act of self-defense?
The American-born radical cleric Awlaki – a recruiter for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said to have inspired alleged Ft. Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan and other homegrown Islamic terrorists – was killed in a US drone strike Friday. Also killed in the attack was American-born Samir Khan, editor of Al Qaeda’s English-language magazine “Inspire.”
Civil libertarians and some constitutional scholars say what amount to targeted assassination of US citizens cannot be justified – even in wartime. What’s to prevent the government from killing terrorist suspects on US soil, they ask?
“The US 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,” writes Glenn Greenwald, a former constitutional law and civil rights litigator, in his Salon column.
“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,” says Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one party in a lawsuit seeking to prevent targeted killings.
“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,” he said in a statement Friday. “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.”
US officials point to evidence that Awlaki played a significant operational role in several plots, including the failed attempt by so-called underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to bring down a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009.