While most will agree in principle, some tend to get a little jiggy around the edges when it comes down to particulars. As I mentioned in Part I, one of my clients was executed for acting on a belief that some people, well, just needed to be killed. In the height of irony, the State of Florida, showed him how much they agreed with him. In principle. More recently, the Part II chronicled the City of Atlanta police who emptied a couple of extended magazines into a woman who was performing an abortion on her own post-partum child. Everyone was sad, but everyone agreed. She needed to be killed. At least in principle.
Not too long ago, the Obama Administration decided that someone needed to be killed. An American citizen. Who didn’t get a trial. Who hadn’t been convicted of anything. But he needed to be killed. So killed he was.
As noted by the New York Times:
The search for Mr. Awlaki, the American-born cleric whose fiery sermons made him a larger-than-life figure in the shadowy world of jihad, finally ended on [September 20, 2011]. After several days of surveillance of Mr. Awlaki, armed drones operated by the Central Intelligence Agency took off from a new, secret American base in the Arabian Peninsula, crossed into northern Yemen and unleashed a barrage of Hellfire missiles at a car carrying him and other top operatives from Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, including another American militant who had run the group’s English-language Internet magazine.
The strike was the culmination of a desperate manhunt marked not only by near misses and dead ends, but also by a wrenching legal debate in Washington about the legality — and morality — of putting an American citizen on a list of top militants marked for death. It also represented the latest killing of a senior terrorist figure in an escalated campaign by the Obama administration.
Awlaki’s death – more particularly, that he was killed – raises a wide variety of ethical issues. One, for instance, seems to be the well-established rule of “imminence” that requires the wrongdoer be close in time and space to committing the wrong one is seeking to prevent. Awlaki was driving along a Yemeni road, somewhat vaguely on his way to the next planning session of his next misdeed. That the Obama Administration is taking the legal position that imminence is out the window is not only interesting, but it seems to me that certain members of certain professions would – how do you Americans say – be very concerned.
Apparently another well-established principle is now gone. Finite! Kaput! That is the use of the United States military against United States citizens. Now dispatching Awlaki might have been a good call. I mean, after all, we all agree that some people just need to be killed.
But hard cases usually make bad law. They just do usually make it so quickly. Today the Obama Administration declared:
The government lawyers, CIA counsel Stephen Preston and Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson, did not directly address the al-Awlaki case. But they said U.S. citizens don’t have immunity when they’re at war with the United States. Johnson said only the executive branch, not the courts, is equipped to make military battlefield targeting decisions about who qualifies as an enemy.
Get that? The executive branch gets to make unfettered executive decisions about “who qualifies as an enemy.” Hello! Anybody home?
Now there’s no need to get one of those bothersome warrants. Constitution, schmonstitution. Get your self declared to be an enemy of the state and presto, blammo you’ve been terminated with extreme prejudice.
While I admit my own intrigue with the technology involved, zapping someone with an extraordinary payload, delivered by an unmanned drone, remote controlled by who-knows-who, operating from who-knows-where is pretty nifty.
But it kinda makes me a little jiggy around the edges when the commander-in-chief seems like he’s more at home playing video games than anything else.