This week in a speech at Northwestern University, Attorney General Eric Holder defended the Obama administration’s policy that led to the targeted killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki was killed by a CIA led drone strike in Yemen in a US-led drone strike in September of last year.
The drone strike raised questions of the rights of US citizens abroad, even those allegedly involved with terror organizations. The administration claimed that Anwar al-Awlaki was a senior recruiter and motivator within al-Qaeda, as evidenced by a series of Youtube videos. Intelligence also posited that al-Alawki had been promoted to “regoinal commander”, and named this as the motivation for their attack.
However, these allegations were never proven in a criminal court. In essence, an intelligence agency was given carte blanche to carry out a drone strike and kill an American citizen for allegations that remained unproven, thus denying him the right of due process. The evidence for treason committed by al-Awlaki seems damning, so why wasn’t he tried in absentia at some point before the drone strike?
In defense of these actions and the precedent they set, Holder stated, “Our legal authority is not limited to the battlefields in Afghanistan. Indeed, neither Congress nor our federal courts has limited the geographic scope of our ability to use force to the current conflict in Afghanistan. We are at war with a stateless enemy, prone to shifting operations from country to country.”
That on its own is hardly a comforting though. The premise of a government claiming limitless legal authority on the basis that it is fighting a stateless enemy in a war of its own choosing is a recipe for disaster. But Holder elaborated in a way that was perhaps more distressing, explaining that the executive branch reviewing the evidence counted as due process, which is not necessarily judicial process.
What this boils down to is this: in the name of the “war on terror”, the executive branch can literally take the role of judge, jury, and executioner. It’s bad enough that this has been the policy for so many so-called enemy combatants detained indefinitely without trial in Guantanamo Bay. Now that policy has been extended, both to murder and American citizens.
In the last decade alone, not one but two administrations from two opposing political parties have rescinded the right to habeas corpus and due process, now even for some of their own citizens. Disappointingly, Democratic critics of Bush-era policies that were similar in nature – such as prisoner treatment in Guantanamo and the NSA wiretaps – have remained silent on this issue. And the GOP presidential candidates have also neglected to comment, despite their constant lip service to the Constitution. There seems to be no one in the executive branch – currently or prospectively – willing to reign in the unchecked, endless war on terror.