In a recent New American article by Thomas Eddlem, the author writes:
But many patriotic Americans are wondering: Does the President have the rightful power to order the assassination of any U.S. citizen he deems a threat or a danger to society? And if the answer to that first question is yes, what limit can be placed on a presidential license to kill? The Constitution and Anglo-American common law places no firewalls on this pretended new presidential power. And if the President is to be trusted with an unlimited license to kill, why should the United States continue to bother with inefficient courts, juries, and trials at all?
This is in reference to the recent assassination of American citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen by a U.S. drone attack (said drone attack authorized by President Obama). Since when did the President get the authority to order the assassination of U.S. citizens? Last time I checked, the Constitution grants every citizen the right to due process (under the fifth amendment). That makes the administration’s actions in this case unconstitutional and illegal.
What is even more troubling is not the blatant illegality of the president’s actions, but the general sense of approval from the populace. We are increasingly living in an elected American dictatorship where the president can carte blanche bypass his constitutional authority and the rule of law and, by executive fiat, do whatever he deems necessary; in this case, order the assassination of an American citizen and deny his right to due process under the fifth amendment. And the people are happy?
What happened to the rule of law? Are we to look the other way in this execution because the target was Muslim and part of Al-Queda? That’s the problem with the War on Terror. In a war without borders, it becomes increasingly more difficult to draw the line between combatant and non-combatant. Whatever Al-Awlaki’s alleged crimes, he needed to be tried by a jury of his peers and found guilty of a crime before punishment was meted out. The power to pass judgment was given to the Judicial Branch for a reason; namely to separate the power of the judiciary from that of the legislative and executive. When the President assumes the power of the judiciary, not only is he acting unconstitutionally, but dictatorially.
We have the rule of law not to protect the bad guys from receiving the just punishments for their crimes, but for protecting the innocent from the abuse of power by corrupt politicians. Was Al-Awlaki guilty? Probably so. But that does not make it right to summarily execute him without a proper indictment and trial by jury. If the system can be abrogated in this case, what’s to prevent it from being abrogated for the ‘crime’ of simply speaking out against our government overlords? Put another way: Does this action by President Obama move us in the direction of more freedom or in the direction of less a la the former Soviet Union?