Eric Holder’s memory wasn’t failing him today as he spoke at Northwestern University in Chicago. They were likely running through his mind, but there were three names Holder dared not to speak. They were Samir Khan, Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, and Anwar Al-Awlaki. They are the three US citizens who have been executed by drone missile attacks in Yemen, without so much as the order of a judge to show as a warrant for their death.
The ‘Attorney General’ (military ranking being fully apropos) gave a carefully crafted response to the legal questions the administration has been facing since the September 30 killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki. Holder essentially declared the president to be within his authority (for who is there to challenge it?) to order the killing of anyone deemed an external threat to the defense of the United States. A search of the internet reveals no video of the address. The Washington Post provides some fairly in-depth coverage. Here’s a disturbing snippet from the lawyer-in-chief.
Some have argued that the president is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qaeda or associated forces. This is simply not accurate.
It’s as though an ‘Al-Qaeda Associate’ exemption were written into the constitution some time in the commotion following 9/11. Which is not to say that Anwar Al-Awlaki was a character who is easy to defend. Aside from the administration’s claims from classified evidence that Al-Awlaki had some prestigious title within the infamous Al-Qaeda terrorist network, we know that he also condemned to death participants in Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. But regardless of how crazy and dangerous the disgruntled expatriate may have been, if the government found his actions to be criminal, it is their obligation to prove their claim prior to resorting to the option of execution. It is not only the accused that deserves a trial. Society also deserves to see, before violence is committed in its name, that due process has been followed and that life, liberty, and property are not being unjustly denied. Hina Shamsi of the ACLU commented on Holder’s proclamation,
Few things are as dangerous to American liberty as the proposition that the government should be able to kill citizens anywhere in the world on the basis of legal standards and evidence that are never submitted to a court, either before or after the fact. Anyone willing to trust President Obama with the power to secretly declare an American citizen an enemy of the state and order his extrajudicial killing should ask whether they would be willing to trust the next president with that dangerous power.