Attacking US citizens a breach of judicial process
By James Barrett
Question of the week: Should our government kill American terrorists intending to target the United States?
In the past week, NBC obtained a memo from the Justice Department with the government’s argument for killing U.S. citizens suspected of being terrorists. This story has been years in the making.
In 2009 Barack Obama signed an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. It has yet to be shut down, but no new terrorists are being sent to the off-shore barracks. That’s because in President Obama’s first term there were “more than 400 CIA strikes against targets in Pakistan and Yemen, eight times as many as under President Bush,” reports NBC’s Michael Isikoff.
Anwar Al-Aulaqi was an American citizen killed in 2011 by a U.S. drone attack in Yemen. He received no court hearing or trial by jury to answer for his alleged crimes. Accused of having a central role in the 9/11 attacks and influencing the Fort Hood shooter in 2009, Al-Aulaqi was never found to have committed a crime on American soil.
A week after the killing of Al-Aulaqi, the New York Times reported about a secret 50-page memo that “offers a glimpse into the legal debate that led to…the killing of an American citizen without a trial.” Though the document was never obtained, the idea that our government can kill citizens without trial was front page news.
America is not locking up terrorists anymore – we are simply killing them. In April 2012, the Obama administration sent out John Brennan as the spokesman for the new policy. “In full accordance with the law…the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific Al-Qaeda terrorists,” Brennan said.
Using drones to attack enemy combatants is one thing, but what about killing American citizens?
“When it comes to American citizens, they should receive a trial,” said Amber Crockett, a junior majoring in psychology. “There are only allegations until proven guilty.”
Matthew Bunting, a sophomore studying marine science disagrees. When asked if the government should kill American terrorists, Bunting said, “Yes, if they are that big of a threat.”
It’s hard to argue against taking action against someone who wants to harm Americans, regardless of citizenship. But who decides when a threat is so imminent that action must be taken to stop it?
Now a nominee for CIA director , Brennan said, “The decisions that are made [on the battlefield] are to take action so that we prevent a future action; so we protect American lives. That is an inherently executive branch function.”
In the same NBC story, Isikoff reported on the memo he obtained from the Justice Department. “[Imminent threat] does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”
So let’s get this straight: The executive branch has full discretion on who they decide to kill and why. But there doesn’t need to be clear evidence that a specific attack is in the immediate future.
Is this not an extreme grab of power and control?
Innocent until proven guilty: Isn’t this the mind set that has guided our judicial system? Should we allow the executive branch to act as judge, jury and prosecution? Did Anwar Al-Aulaqi deserve his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial? Will we allow our government to continue violating our rights in the name of security?
As our society continues through the 21st century, our generation will have to deal with these questions. But this writer urges us to put a stop to such massive centralization of power. Benjamin Franklin’s words ring truer now more than ever. “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”