NBC’s website has reported something that probably none of its TV pundits would have dared to:
“A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or ‘an associated force’–even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.”
President Obama set the very first precedent of targeting American citizens for assassination back in April 2010. Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen who was working with al-Qaida and the first American to be added to Obama’s “kill list.” In September 2011, al-Awlaki was taken out in a drone strike in Yemen.
Now, al-Awlaki was a known terrorist. He was very open about it in his YouTube videos. But there are two arguments as to what should have been done with him.
One is that because he was an American citizen, he had constitutional protection and the right to a trial. When a murderer turns himself in to the police, confessing to a first-degree killing, he is still given a trial (if only for sentencing) despite the knowledge, not the assumption, that he is a killer.
The other argument is that the moment someone joins forces with America’s enemies, he has committed an act of treason and renounced American citizenship and all constitutional rights thereof.
I was entirely against the proposal that the 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, be given a civilian trial in New York as opposed to putting him before a military tribunal; KSM was not an American citizen and thus did not have constitutional rights.
American citizens, however, even terrorists (think Timothy McVeigh), have a right to a trial, if only, as in the case of the aforementioned hypothetical confessed murderer, for sentencing.
Moreover, remember what NBC reported the Justice Department memo said: the federal government can target and kill an American citizen simply based on the belief that he is a member of al-Qaida or one of its affiliates.
In days gone by, when the government did not label patriotic protesters as terrorists, this might not have been as big a problem as it is now. But you may recall that some congressional Democrats and even the vice president himself have in the past labeled the Tea Party as domestic terrorists.
So targeting American citizens for what the government calls terrorism is a dangerous precedent–and one for which, before Obama got elected, Democratic politicians and citizens alike would have called for the president’s impeachment.