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Extrajudicial assassinations of U.S. citizens: simply wrong

By Scott Tibbs, October 15, 2010

The American Civil Liberties Union is fighting the Obama Administration's decision to target Anwar Al-Aulaqi, a U.S. citizen and militant Islamic cleric residing in Yemen. While I do not deny that Al-Aulaqi is an enemy of the United States, I am compelled to side with the ACLU in opposing a targeted assassination of an American citizen. This takes the War on Terror too far. In an October 8 press release, the ACLU wrote:

"If the government's arguments were accepted, the current administration and every future administration would have unreviewable authority to carry out targeted killings of Americans deemed to be enemies of the state," said Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU. "While that power would be limited to contexts of armed conflict, the government has argued that the armed conflict against al Qaeda extends everywhere, indefinitely. This is an extraordinary and unprecedented claim, and one that we urge the courts to reject unequivocally. The courts have a crucial role to play in ensuring that the government's counterterrorism policies are consistent with the Constitution."

The ACLU continued:

"While the administration has publicly declared global war powers to target and kill U.S. citizens and others wherever they may be, when it comes time to defend and explain its breathtaking claims in court, the administration dodges the issue and raises the specter of national security to persuade the court that it should not indeed, cannot inquire further, and to trust the executive," said CCR attorney Pardiss Kebriaei. "The court should reject the notion that it has no role in determining the constitutional rights of a U.S. citizen and in defining the constitutional parameters of the president's asserted power."

See the full press release here.

If Al-Aulaqi is killed on the battlefield, that would be perfectly acceptable and I have no problem with his death. What I disagree with is a targeted extra-judicial assassination of a U.S. citizen. Whatever happened to hope and change, President Obama? What happened to the promise of respecting civil liberties and our core values as Americans?

If Al-Aulaqi is legally captured and convicted of a crime after a fair trial by a jury of his peers, then he should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. What the government should not be permitted to do is assassinate him without judicial review and absent a criminal conviction. We can fight terrorists and respect civil liberties at the same time.

If we abandon our principles of due process and the rule of law simply because an extrajudicial assassination is more convenient, then we have given the terrorists exactly what they have been fighting to obtain for over 30 years. Every one of us will be in greater jeopardy, because once a precedent like this is established it is very difficult to roll it back. This will be used to further chip away at civil liberties and due process. That is frightening.