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Awlaki creates an interesting issue.

May 14, 2010

U.S. Decision to Approve Killing of Cleric Causes Unease

American citizen, and radical Yemeni cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki has been put on the C.I.A’s hit list.  In other words, he’s been “designated for death.”  The article lays out the on-going debate with respect to Awlaki; namely, should our government be able to mark a citizen for death without due process?  An anonymous counter-terrorism official says absolutely:

“American citizenship doesn’t give you carte blanche to wage war against your own country,” said a counterterrorism official who discussed the classified program on condition of anonymity. “If you cast your lot with its enemies, you may well share their fate.”

That’s a great statement, if you’re Rambo and it’s a movie.  This is the real world, though, and the clear answer to the question posed by the article is no.  An American citizen must have due process.  That’s simply how it works.

Now, the whole issue of citizenship is really just a red herring, right?  The Supreme Court ruled long ago that one’s citizenship could be rescinded by the federal government under certain circumstances (See Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, for example).  One of those circumstances is treason.  Awlaki’s call to kill Americans, and his alleged involvement in planning the Christmas day airline bombing, certainly constitute treason.  Rescinding his citizenship would be easy (and should be done).

The article indirectly brings up a larger question, though.  How far are we willing to go to kill terrorists?  Following 9/11, President Bush said we would kill terrorists (not just Al Qaeda) where they were found, and would deal forcefully with any country that harbored them.  Irregardless of the WMD issue, the war against Iraq was in keeping with Bush’s warning.  Iraq harbored terrorists, and so they were dealt with forcefully.

It’s dicey to argue that everyone on the C.I.A.’s hit list is an actual terrorist (humans are fallible after all).  That being said, what would we have our government do?  I find very few things to be legitimate functions of government, but the defense of its people is certainly one of them.  And what’s the point of living under government if not for self-preservation?

The answer is simple: If we can’t detain him, we should kill him where he stands.  If we are unwilling to do so, the fight will increasingly come back to our shores.

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