Obama's terrorist dilemma
If he believes even non-American terrorists should be treated like American criminals, with all the rights we grant our own accused, how did he sanction killing Anwar Awlaki without even a hearing?

Muhammad ud-Deen

Imam Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, October 2008

I agree with the Obama administration's decision to kill the American-born Al Qaeda recruiter Anwar Awlaki. What I can't fathom is why the administration agrees with me.

Here's Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta responding to complaints from the ACLU over the "assassination" of an American citizen without due process: "This individual was clearly a terrorist. And yes, he was a citizen, but if you're a terrorist, you're a terrorist. And that means that we have the ability to go after those who would threaten to attack the United States and kill Americans."

I agree with that. The Constitution empowers the president to put down insurrection, and what was Awlaki if not an insurrectionist?

Moreover, the authorization for the use of force passed on Sept. 18, 2001, says the president "is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."

"I don't think those are tough questions. But Obama does. So he prefers to kill these people outright, avoiding the questions altogether."--Jonah Goldberg

It doesn't say anything about exempting Americans. If news reports, statements from U.S. officials and Awlaki himself are to be believed, Awlaki was a member of Al Qaeda. Moreover, he helped orchestrate and incite violence aimed at the U.S. He never denied the charges against him but hid outside of U.S. jurisdiction fomenting violence against America.

Case closed.

And yet, I sympathize with critics on the far left and libertarian right who find the whole thing unseemly. Surely when an American is in the cross hairs, there's a higher political bar, even if there isn't a higher legal or constitutional one.

ABC's Jake Tapper asked White House spokesman Jay Carney, "Does the administration not see at all how a president asserting that he has the right to kill an American citizen without due process, and that he's not going to even explain why he thinks he has that right, is troublesome to some people."

Carney's response: "I'm not going to … discuss the circumstances of his death."

The mind reels to think how people would have responded if President Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, had said that.

But here's where I am confused. According to U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., the administration is committed to treating captured terrorists as criminals, entitled to all of the rights and privileges of a civilian criminal trial.

It seems the Defense Department disagrees, given that some lesser-known prisoners are allegedly kept on ships--call them floating Gitmos--without trials.

Meanwhile, President Obama keeps ordering that the more famous terrorists be killed on sight. That's fine with me. But as far as I can tell, he's never disagreed with Holder's view about the need for civilian trials for terrorists we don't kill, like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

Hence my confusion. If you believe that even non-American terrorists should be treated like American criminals, with all of the 5th Amendment rights we grant to our own accused, how can you sanction killing an American without so much as a hearing?

The 5th Amendment says that no person shall be "deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law." A Predator drone strike seems to deprive all three.

Which would you prefer: to be arrested, possibly waterboarded and then tried by a U.S. military court in Cuba, or to be disintegrated by a Hellfire missile? What's worse, to be executed after a less-than-perfect military trial. or to be executed with no trial at all?

And let's not forget, these missiles aren't that surgical. They kill the people around the target too. In this case Samir Khan, a U.S.-born editor of Al Qaeda's magazine, Inspire, was killed--not to mention a number of others. Where was their day in court?

And that's the point, really. If captured alive, terrorists pose political problems for Obama. Where do we put them? How do we interrogate them? And, most pressingly, how do we try them?

I don't think those are tough questions. But Obama does. So he prefers to kill these people outright, avoiding the questions altogether.

Jonah Goldberg is a visiting fellow at AEI

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Jonah
Goldberg

  •  


    A bestselling author and columnist, Jonah Goldberg's nationally syndicated column appears regularly in scores of newspapers across the United States. He is also a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a member of the board of contributors to USA Today, a contributor to Fox News, a contributing editor to National Review, and the founding editor of National Review Online. He was named by the Atlantic magazine as one of the top 50 political commentators in America. In 2011 he was named the Robert J. Novak Journalist of the Year at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). He has written on politics, media, and culture for a wide variety of publications and has appeared on numerous television and radio programs. Prior to joining National Review, he was a founding producer for Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg on PBS and wrote and produced several other PBS documentaries. He is the recipient of the prestigious Lowell Thomas Award. He is the author of two New York Times bestsellers, The Tyranny of Clichés (Sentinel HC, 2012) and Liberal Fascism (Doubleday, 2008).  At AEI, Mr. Goldberg writes about political and cultural issues for American.com and the Enterprise Blog.

    Follow Jonah Goldberg on Twitter.


  • Phone: 202-862-7165
    Email: jonah.goldberg@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image The Census Bureau and Obamacare: Dumb decision? Yes. Conspiracy? No.
image A 'three-state solution' for Middle East peace
image Give the CBO long-range tools
image The coming collapse of India's communists
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 14
    MON
  • 15
    TUE
  • 16
    WED
  • 17
    THU
  • 18
    FRI
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Calling treason by its name: A conversation with Liam Fox

Join us at AEI as the Right Honorable Liam Fox sits down with Marc Thiessen to discuss and debate whether America’s intelligence agencies have infringed on the personal privacy of US citizens.

Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
The curmudgeon's guide to getting ahead

How can young people succeed in workplaces dominated by curmudgeons who are judging their every move? At this AEI book event, bestselling author and social scientist Charles Murray will offer indispensable advice for navigating the workplace, getting ahead, and living a fulfilling life.

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.