Last week’s assassination of two American citizens, Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, is an outrage and a criminal act carried out by the president and his administration. If the law protecting us against government-sanctioned assassination can be voided when there is a “really bad American,” is there any meaning left to the rule of law in the United States? If, as we learned last week, a secret government committee, not subject to congressional oversight or judicial review, can now target certain Americans for assassination, under what moral authority do we presume to lecture the rest of the world about protecting human rights?
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Awlaki’s father tried desperately to get the administration to at least allow his son to have legal representation to challenge the “kill” order. He was denied. Rather than give him his day in court, the administration, behind closed doors, served as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner. The most worrisome aspect of this is that any new powers this administration accrues will serve as precedents for future administrations. Even those who completely trust this administration must understand that if this usurpation of power and denial of due process is allowed to stand, these powers will remain to be expanded on by the next administration and then the next. Will you trust them? History shows that once a population gives up its rights, they are not easily won back. Beware.
Governments are like serial killers. Once they start killing, they rarely stop killing on their own. Typically someone or some group has to stop them. The reason for this is that killing becomes a way to solve problems for the Government. And, its a very easy and convenient way to solve problems. Its much easier to send a team of assassins in black to kill someone in the dark of night than it is to argue and compete against a person in a free and open democracy which can be time consuming in its dedication to make sure that everyone has a voice and a vote. Its much easier for a Leader or a Government to simply say "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?"
And isn't that precisely one of the arguments that one hears about why the assassination of Osama Bin Laden was necessary? Aren't we told that killing him was a better option because a public and fair trial under our constitution would have been so difficult?
Things become bloody and difficult because anyone who wants to stop the reign of killing by the government is viewed by that government as a problem needing to be solved. Thus, not only will a government tend to expand the number and range of problems that its willing to solve 'the easy way' with assassins in the night, but that they will also usually defend themselves by trying to easily solve the problem of those annoying idealists and moralists and just ordinary people concerned for their own safety who insist on this naive notion that Leaders and Governments don't automatically receive a license to kill.
The scary thought from the last time the US government practiced assassination as official policy is that it didn't stay offshore. It wasn't long afterwards that a US Presidential casket draped in black was drawn behind a riderless horse. And it wasn't too long before America was mourning the fact that some of the best and brightest among us, some of those who were willing to try to work to make America a better place for all of us were also the subject of tears at memorial services. This genie doesn't have a history of staying contained in the nice little bottle to which its been assigned by those who think they rule the world.