Revolution #211, September 12, 2010

Lawsuit Challenges President's Authority to Assassinate U.S. Citizens

A quick, one question current events quiz:

What do you call a country where the head of state can order the assassination of a citizen, with no arrest warrant, no formal charges, no trial, and no appeals process, far afield from any military conflict? And where such an order occasions little public outcry?

  1. A country on a dangerous trajectory towards a police state.
  2. A country where a large section of the citizenry has been dangerously deluded into thinking that "shoot first, ask questions later" responses to alleged terrorist threats from Islamic fundamentalists are moral, and making them safer.
  3. A country where the "loyal opposition" party that claimed to stand for the rule of law is outdoing the fascists they promised to clean up after.
  4. The United States of America, 2010.
  5. All of the above.

The answer: e.

On August 30, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sued President Barack Obama along with the heads of the U.S. Department of Defense and the CIA, opposing "the executive's asserted authority to carry out 'targeted killings' of U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism far from any field of armed conflict." Specifically, the lawsuit asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to stop Obama and the CIA from assassinating Anwar al-Aulaqi, who currently lives in Yemen. The ACLU and CCR are representing al-Aulaqi's father.

Mainstream media coverage of the assassination order and the lawsuit has ignored or sloughed off what should be obvious and fundamental issues of constitutional rights. It is, for example, supposed to violate the U.S. Constitution for the government to deprive an individual of his or her life without arrest and trial. The fact that this assassination order is not the cause for widespread outrage is in itself a shocking statement on the situation for civil liberties.

The ACLU/CCR lawsuit is based on the fact that, in early 2010, several newspapers reported that U.S. government officials had confirmed Anwar Al-Aulaqi's placement on government kill lists. There is no official statement from any U.S. government official on this, nor any challengeable explanation for why the U.S. government has decreed it can and will assassinate al-Aulaqi.

The role of justifying the assassination order is being played by people identified in the media as former government and CIA officials and "terrorism experts," who claim the government has evidence of connections between al-Aulaqi and people who have been accused of planning terrorist acts. But overwhelmingly these accusations in the press are that people who have been charged with attempting or planning terrorist acts were influenced politically by al-Aulaqi's sermons and Internet postings. In short, that al-Aulaqi committed thought crimes—for which he is being targeted for assassination without trial. A major story on the lawsuit in USA Today, for example, was characterized by assertions that al-Aulaqi's "sermons explain to potential followers why the West is evil and are pocked with references to pop culture given in disarming American English." It must be noted that the standards of linkage that are alleged here between on-air and Internet propaganda, and violent attacks on civilians, are never invoked to bring criminal charges (much less to issue assassination orders) against U.S. public figures, including radio and TV personalities who create an atmosphere where their right-wing listeners murder abortion doctors or carry out other fascist attacks on people.

And in any case, if the government has evidence of criminal activity, why are they not bringing formal criminal charges?

To those who feel queasy about "their government" assassinating U.S. citizens without arrest or trial, but who can sleep at night because this is all being overseen by Barack Obama…. Or to those who "feel bad" about the state of civil liberties but justify this as keeping them safe, four questions must be posed:

  1. Do you understand the legal implications of establishing a legal precedent that the President of the United States can order the assassination of any U.S. citizen, on his say-so, without arrest or trial? Such precedents are often established in the cases of people associated with, or supposedly associated with bad things, but then they apply to everyone.
  2. What is the morality of assassinating people without arrest or trial to "keep Americans safe"? And what kind of a world does that lead to?
  3. How will extra-judicial, illegal assassinations of people associated with Islamic fundamentalism, far outside of any venue that could be considered a "war zone," dampen the vicious cycle of McWorld vs. Jihad? Won't they, in fact, spiral that dynamic to new, and worse levels?
  4. Now that you know this is what "your government" is doing in your name, how can you stay silent? What are you going to do to politically resist?


Stop thinking like Americans!
Start thinking about humanity!

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