The Corner

Re: Assassination

From a reader:

Dear Mr Goldberg,

I’m a longtime fan, but “America’s Assassination List” is the most disturbing thing you’ve ever written.

You write, “Some civil libertarians seem to think we can never, ever kill an American citizen without a trial by jury (and perhaps not even then). That argument would have been silly during the days of conventional warfare. Now it’s plain crazy.”

To which I reply, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime … nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” That’s a Constitutional provision recorded in the Fifth Amendment. An individual (such as the President) or consultative body that unilaterally decrees the targeted assassination of an American citizen does not qualify as “due process of law,” even under the most adverse of situations. It’s a Star Chamber, and stands in complete opposition to our constitutional republic.

If Awlaki dies on the battlefield, fighting in opposition to our forces, that’s one thing. Sending our assassins after him wherever he may be is something else entirely.

Okay, but hasn’t the reader answered his own implied question? Surely, “the battlefield” is a very amorphous term these days. An American fighting in Nazi uniform in 1943 could be killed and even singled out for killing without a trial by jury, or at least I think that’s the case. Awlaki — like all of al Qaeda — refuses to  play by the rules even the Nazis agreed to. I’m at a loss as to why they should be rewarded for it. I think the major hitch here is the word “crime.” If you see al Qaeda as simply a criminal organization, then a whole bunch of things flow from that. If you see it as a non-state entity at war with the U.S. and our allies, other things flow from that.

Regardless, as far as I can tell, mine is the middle ground position. I agree — as I wrote — that this is all creepy and needs to be worked out with some clarity in a thoughtful manner. The current ambiguity and secrecy are very troubling.

Oh one last thing, given all the stuff I’ve written I’m hard pressed to imagine that this column is the most disturbing thing I’ve ever written.


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