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BISF Debates: Do political assassinations undermine the constitution

By Graham West and Matt Carey     10/5/11 7:00pm

As someone who aspires to promote peaceful interactions between the U.S. and the Middle East, I would be outraged over the killing of Yemeni-American radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki on Sept. 30, 2011 via drone strike. However, I feel quite the opposite; I am proud of our intelligence community for taking decisive action to neutralize a significant international threat.

Al-Awlaki was an American citizen, but he was also a self-professed member of al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). AQAP has emerged as the most capable of the organization's "regional franchises," drawing on Yemen's lawlessness for relative freedom of movement and public organization. AQAP has been implicated in inspiring multiple instances of lone wolf terrorism in the U.S., including the infamous and thankfully failed underwear bomber of Dec. 2009, or the tragically much more lethal Fort Hood shooting incident in Nov. of 2009, when radicalized American Major Nidal Hasan, who had corresponded with al-Awlaki personally and had accessed his teachings, murdered 13 individuals and wounded 29.

Underscoring the uniqueness of AQAP is Inspire, an English-language magazine produced online which features material by al-Awlaki. With articles such as "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom," this propaganda piece spreads the al-Qaeda narrative to audiences around the world. If you don't think this is conceptually a concern, consider how damaging it is to U.S. public diplomacy that we don't have enough Arabic language speakers explaining and defining our policy throughout the region, and then recognize that those opposing our message have effectively already figured this out.

Some argue that al-Awlaki was a figurehead with no verified operational role in AQAP. However, in an organization motivated by a set of ideological desires rather than pragmatic geopolitical objectives, a symbolic role is an operational role. Late in his life, Osama bin Laden served not as a tactical resource for al-Qaeda but as a unifying spiritual leader. Similarly, al-Awlaki's planning of actual attacks is irrelevant to the fact that he was an international cultural ambassador for his beliefs, a persuasive orator and writer in English and Arabic, and an example of an American who had effectively renounced his citizenship to fight against his homeland.

To me, commentary about due process seems inconsequential to al-Awlaki's assassination. Concerns from domestic commentators about their own civil liberties disappearing are relying too much on a slippery slope argument. I would urge them to have a measure of faith in our government and accept al-Awlaki as a man who — American citizenship or not — had declared war on the U.S. and her interests. His death was a strategic blow to AQAP and ultimately beneficial to cooperation and coexistence between the peoples of the U.S. and the Middle East.

Graham West is a Sid Richardson College senior.



On Sept. 30, the United States Joint Special Operations Command, working with the CIA, carried out a drone missile attack in Yemen against Anwar al-Awlaki, one of the principal and most influential leaders of al- Qaeda. And an American citizen.

While al-Awlaki was personally responsible for countless atrocities against fellow Americans and deserved to be brought to justice, there is no justification for depriving him of due process and assassinating him without trial. The Fifth Amendment clearly states that, "no person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." When we grant the president the right to use military and intelligence operatives to kill American citizens who have committed crimes without charging them or putting them on trial, we establish a frightening precedent. What's to stop any president from ordering similar attacks against Americans for lesser crimes in foreign countries or even within our borders? That is one power I would not want to grant to any president at any time, regardless of the circumstances.

The U.S. has a long history of suspending civil liberties in times of war. During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt gave the military the authority to detain Japanese Americans without justification. Forty years later, President Ronald Reagan formally apologized and distributed over $1 billion in reparations to Japanese Americans. Later, in the midst of the Cold War, Congress passed the McCarran Internal Security Act allowing the detainment of people deemed dangerous or disloyal during times of war or "internal security emergency." Yet it only took a matter of years for the Supreme Court to declare parts of the law unconstitutional and for Congress to repeal other aspects of the act. Though times of war or internal strife have led to a suspension of our constitutional rights on numerous occasions, our nation has often regretted these decisions once the crises have subsided. It's one thing to apologize for detaining citizens without trial; it's an entirely different matter when those people were assassinated without due process.

Let me be clear, however: the U.S. has every right – and even the responsibility – to make full use of our military, law enforcement and intelligence capabilities to fight terrorism both domestically and abroad. Yes, a war against an unconventional enemy will require unconventional tactics, but at the same time, we cannot suspend the same constitutional rights and liberties that our enemy is working so hard to abolish. Part of what makes America a great nation is the extensive amount of freedom bestowed upon us. We must resist the temptation to engage in modern-day McCarthyism in the hopes of securing a safer America. As Benjamin Franklin said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

I would be interested to know how Franklin would respond to the assassination of al-Awlaki.

Matt Carey is a McMurtry College senior.

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