My holiday gift card list did not grow shorter this week when an American missile struck and killed Anwar al-Awlaki in a Yemeni desert. He was a top-dog in the rag-tag band of fundamentalist creeps who would just as soon kill me as any of some 300 million other folks just like me. He hated the United States. He wanted random Americans dead. So we tracked him, found him, and killed him.
Did I mention that al-Awlaki was also a United States citizen?
Al-Awlaki was identified by secret government intelligence, selected for assassination by government officials relying on secret standards, and then erased from the face of the Earth by government employees without any sort of judicial review or legal process. And then President Barak Obama took credit for this killing, as though it should make the rest of us feel safer and somehow better about ourselves.
Al-Awlaki was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in 1971. His father was a graduate student studying agriculture. When he was seven, he moved to Yemen with his parents. He lived there until he was 19, returning to the United States to study engineering at the Colorado State University, where he completed a degree. He gravitated toward jihadi views, becoming a preacher of sorts in Denver, San Diego and Virginia. In 2002 he moved to London, shortly thereafter, he was in Yemen, recording English-language appeals to global jihad.
But we did not summarily execute him for his beliefs. We killed him because the government had reason to believe he was a top planner of terrorist acts for al-Qaeda, the group of Islamic misfits against whom we, the world’s largest superpower, have waged war for a decade, a war without seeming end. Al-Awlaki is accused of having masterminded a number of strikes intended to kill you, me or our next door neighbor. Hence, we are supposed to be happy that he was blown to smithereens last week.
I do not know how many people my government killed last week, last month, or last year for that matter. I do not know how many of those who it killed were American citizens, with claims as valid as mine to due process of law. It turns out at least one other American citizen was killed with al-Awlaki last week. Twenty-five-year-old Samir Khan was riding with al-Awlaki when his car was struck by airborne missiles. Kahn is portrayed in the American papers as a blogger turned electronic jihadi who edited an English-language al-Qaeda publication called Inspire. Another road kill for freedom.
I am told we are at war against a global enemy. Some of the enemies are fellow citizens. So we kill our enemies. And then we justify the extraordinary acts of violence with meely-mouthed excuses such as "the Constitution is not a suicide pact." Oh, yes. We must puff our chest and strut the globe showing that we freedom-loving people can kill.
But when we start killing one another the combat looks a lot less like conventional war between states than civil war, pitting one citizen against another, one vision of the good against another. Killing al-Awlaki was easy. He left the country. He encouraged violence and plotted against the rest of us. He lived as a fugitive among what we regard as a savage tribe. Killing him was easy because he turned his back, and then his fist, on us.
But how to draw the line between the acts of a citizen and the acts of a foreign soldier? Who gets to draw that line? What review is there of these decisions to assure that the line is not drawn too close to your front door?
The Constitution does not engage in such subtle acts of casuistry. A citizen has a right to be tried before he is killed. The government doesn’t get to cook up enemies lists in secret and then engage in the dark art of killing when no one is looking.
I am disgusted by President Barak Obama. He ordered the thrill kill of al-Awlaki and then announced it as though he were proud of a job well done. Then he marched off to a dinner and told off members of the Republican Party for booing a gay soldier at a debate. Give me a break. Are we to regard Obama as some sort of hero for making the easy case for tolerance of mere libidinal differences after ordering the summary execution of an American citizen? Obama is a joke with a lethal punchline.
The government has drawn blood without judicial review, without a trial, without a jury of any sort testing its case. It killed and now tells us we should feel safer. I don’t. Standardless and unchecked violence by government terrifies me about as much as does a bunch of guys running around the desert in Yemen wishing me dead.
It is appointed unto us all once to die. I hope my death does not come at the hand of some officious government employee thinking he is serving national security by killing off the dissidents. After the thrill kill of al-Awlaki, I am less confident when and under what circumstances the government shall decide the rights of other citizens are no longer worthy of respect. We killed a citizen without trial and we cheered. A dark day.