Friday, February 08, 2013

Peter Van Buren on Drones & the 5th Amendment


Q: If a foreign organization kills an American overseas for political reasons, it is called…
A: Terrorism.
Q: If the United States kills an American overseas for political reasons, it is called…
A: Justice.
The Government of the United States, currently under the management of a former professor of Constitutional law, is actively killing its own citizens abroad without any form of due process. This is generally seen as a no-no as far as the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta and playground rules goes. The silly old Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees “no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law” and include no exceptions for war, terrorism, or being a really shitty human being.
On or about May 7, 2011 a US military drone fired a missile in Yemen (which is another country that is not our country) aimed at American Citizen Anwar al Awlaki, a real-live al Qaeda guy. The missile instead blew up a car with two other people in it, quickly dubbed “al Qaeda operatives” since we killed them. The US has shot at al Awlaki before, including under the Bush administration. In justifying the assassination attempt, Obama’s counterterrorism chief Michael Leiter said al Awlaki posed a bigger threat to the U.S. homeland than bin Laden did, albeit without a whole lot of explanation as to why this was. But, let’s be charitable and agree al Awaki is a bad guy; indeed, Yemen sentenced him to ten years in jail (which is not execution, fyi) for “inciting to kill foreigners” and “forming an armed gang.”
While the al Awlaki killing is old news, the new news is that the drone that did him fly out of a previously secret U.S. base in Saudi Arabia. Conveniently, that base was secret pretty much only from the American public, as it turns out that an “informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.” Those news organizations included the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press and Fox. The limp newsies kept the secret because the Obama administration claimed disclosure might carry “potential national-security risks.” The U.S. militarization of Saudi Arabia after the 1991 Gulf War is often cited by al Qaeda as one of its prime recruitment tools, so the disclosure indeed reveals a significant dumb ass decision by the U.S.
Attorneys for al Awlaki’s father tried to persuade a US. District Court to issue an injunction preventing the government from the targeted killing of al Awlaki in Yemen, though a judge dismissed the case, ruling the father did not have standing to sue. My research has so far been unable to disclose whether or not this is the first time a father has sought to sue the US government to prevent the government from killing his son but I’ll keep looking. The judge did call the suit “unique and extraordinary” so I am going to go for now with the idea that no one has previously sued the USG to prevent them from murdering a citizen without trial or due process. The judge wimped out and wrote that it was up to the elected branches of government, not the courts, to determine whether the United States has the authority to murder its own citizens abroad.
Just to get ahead of the curve, and even though my own kids are non-terrorists and still in school, I have written to the president asking in advance that he not order them killed. Who knows what they might do? One kid has violated curfew a couple of times, and another stays up late some nights on Facebook, and we all know where that can lead.
The reason I bring up this worrisome turn from regular person to wanted terrorist is because al Awlaki used to be on better terms with the US government himself. In fact, after 9/11, the Pentagon invited him to a luncheon as part of the military’s outreach to the Muslim community. Al Awlaki “was considered to be an ‘up and coming’ member of the Islamic community” by the Army. He attended a luncheon at the Pentagon in the Secretary of the Army’s Office of Government Counsel. Al Awlaki was living in the DC area at that same, the SAME AREA MY KIDS LIVE, serving as Muslim chaplain at George Washington University, the SAME UNIVERSITY MY KIDSmight walk past one day.
Even though Constitutional law professor Obama appears to have skipped reading about the Fifth Amendment (release the transcripts! Maybe he skipped class that day!), courts in Canada have not.
A Toronto judge was justified in freeing an alleged al Qaeda collaborator given the gravity of human rights abuses committed by the United States in connection with his capture in Pakistan, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled. Judges are not expected to remain passive when countries such as the US violate the rights of alleged terrorists, the court said Friday.
“We must adhere to our democratic and legal values, even if that adherence serves in the short term to benefit those who oppose and seek to destroy those values,” said the Canadian court.
Golly, this means that because the US gave up its own principles in detaining and torturing this guy, the Canadians are not going to extradite him to the US. That means that the US actions were… counterproductive… to our fight against terrorism. The Bill of Rights was put in place for the tough cases, not the easy ones. Sticking with it as the guiding principle has worked well for the US for about 230 years, so why abandon all that now?
Meanwhile, I’ll encourage my kids to stay inside when they hear drones overhead.