When the virulent and high-ranking al-Qaeda leader Anwar Al-Awlaki was killed in target drone strike in Yemen last week, most Americans applauded the action, figuring it was another top terrorist out of the picture and no longer plotting terrorist operations against the United States.
There seemed little opposition to the strike, approved by President Barack Obama, and planned by the CIA. Al-Awlaki was considered a key strategist, as well as motivator, for al-Qaeda, calling repeatedly for Jihad or holy war against the U.S. and for the killing of Americans.
He was a key figure in the U.S. war against terrorism, and as such almost as much a prime target for American military and intelligence efforts as Osama Bin Laden, who was killed earlier this year.
Yet Republican Congressman Ron Paul condemned the killing and charged that because Al-Awlaki was born in the United States and therefore was a U.S. citizen, he had been denied due process and a trial. Later, he hinted that President Barack Obama could and perhaps should be impeached for the decision to kill Al-Awlaki. Another GOP presidential wannabe, Herman Cain, suddenly hot after winning a couple of straw polls, also questioned the killing as did some legal scholars and politicians.
But in general, and especially in the ranks of the GOP, the strike was applauded as necessary and successful.
Speaking as someone who’s been opposed to the death penalty most of my life and who’s not too keen on previous attempts by the U.S. to topple governments (Chile comes to mind), or take out political leaders (Lumumba comes to mind), I can only say, due process for what? Al-Awlaki had inspired and worked with bombing suspects, three of the 9/11 terrorists, and helped plan numerous operations. He clearly believed in the holy war against the United States and was an active and prominent player in terrorist plots against the U.S.
Furthermore, while this organization has insisted that it is at war against the United States, sometimes presuming to speak and act for or work with the radical elements in the Middle East, it is not a state. It is a very dangerous, damaged, and violent terrorist organization. Eliminating Al-Awlaki when the opportunity arose—like killing Osama Bin Laden and other high-ranking members of al-Qaeda over the years, was necessary and in the interests of the United States. It would have been irresponsible not to act on the hopes that we could capture him at some time in the future, leaving him free to plot and implement more acts of terror.
It seems to me that Al-Awlaki, with his status as a high-ranking al-Qaeda member, has forfeited any rights given by U.S. Citizenship. He has forfeited his status as a citizen by acting against his country.
Was the killing cold-blooded, brutal and less than admirable? Sure. But let’s consider this: we were all dancing in the streets when Osama Bin Laden was killed, in less than glorious fashion. Should we have given Osama Bin Laden an opportunity at due process?
One might question the use of drones and missile strikes for this sort of thing. In war, all sorts of horrible things happen. Drone strikes, to me, seem to distance us from the seriousness of our actions, and the brutality of our acts. We all recall the use of blockbuster bombs—boom and more boom not to mention shock and awe—in our attempts to kill Saddam Hussein at the beginning of the Iraqi war. Missile strikes are rarely as clean as this one was—there’s always what we so euphemistically call collateral damage.
But this particular act probably saved the lives of American soldiers and may have prevented any number of future terrorist acts.
The less terror, the better. The fewer terrorists there are in the field, the better.