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Monday, December 09, 2019

Did President Obama Have The Right To Kill Anwar al-Awlaki?

Leonard Pitts Jr. believes that the Obama Administration overstepped its bounds when it killed U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone strike last September:

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech in which he attempted to justify what the administration did. His reasoning was not compelling. In Holder’s formulation, the U.S. government has the right to kill citizens if said citizens present an imminent threat of violent attack and if capturing them alive is not a feasible option. It can do this, said Holder, speaking at Northwestern University School of Law, without judicial oversight.

“Some have argued that the president is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or associated forces,” he said. “This is simply not accurate. Due process and judicial process are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process; it does not guarantee judicial process.”

What a flimsy rationale upon which to balance a decision as monumental and portentous as the killing of a citizen. Even granting that the demands of armed conflict sometimes make such things necessary, it is inconceivable that the White House would claim the right to kill without at least presenting its evidence before a federal judge in a secret hearing. To eschew even that safeguard — there is precedent, in urgent cases, for a ruling to be handed down in hours or even minutes — is to set Obama up as potential judge, jury and executioner of every accused terrorist.

Gene Lyons, on the other hand, argues that the administration acted appropriately, and that al-Awlaki got what he deserved.

Anwar al-Awlaki called the play; he basically got what he asked for. John Yoo has nothing to do with it.

Terrorism suspects can be arrested in Detroit or Miami, read their rights, and brought to trial. Holder made a big point of that, taking credit for the life sentence administered to failed “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Not so, however, in the Pakistani tribal areas or the mountainous wastes of Yemen where al Qaeda plotters hide—places where governments barely control major roadways, and then only by day.

At Northwestern, Holder enumerated circumstances under which the President, as commander-in-chief, can legally use “lethal force” against an al Qaeda operative planning terrorist attacks.

“First, the U.S. government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; second, capture is not feasible; and third, the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.”

He added that “the Constitution does not require the President to delay action until some theoretical end-stage of planning—when the precise time, place, and manner of an attack become clear.”

In short, it’s not a legal proceeding; it’s an act of war.

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