Thursday, October 06, 2011

Sayonara al-Awlaki

There are undoubtedly questions that arise when pondering the usage of Predator missile strikes to eliminate a past U.S. citizen. These matters will in some ways have to be worked out as we go along. Without firm delineation of ethical uses of drone strikes, as this practice is relatively new, there has to be a line where jihadists, who once possessed U.S. citizenship ends. I think the personal acknowledgement of waging war against the United States, and then carrying out the violent action is that line. Al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico, to parents of Yemeni descent. He worked in San Diego and Virginia as a boisterous imam who turned young American youth into Jihadists, fighting for religious causes oceans away. It is now known too, that Al-Awlaki helped Hamzi and Mihdhar with housing, transportation and setting up checking accounts from his base in San Diego. Hazmi and Mihdhar are two of the hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, killing over 3,000 U.S. citizens and inflicting major health issues upon first responders and others in the area. Hamzi and Mihdhar described al-Awlaki as their “spiritual advisor.”
An earlier blog post brought up the idea of arresting al-Awlaki and then carrying out a public execution. I do not in any way agree this assessment. This is not Afghanistan during the Taliban takeover; this is not Somalia; this is not Sudan; nor does the United States implement the same types of justice as Iran, North Korea, or remote villages that follow shari’a law. In fact, according to NPR, the last public execution in the United States was in this very state, when a public execution was held for Rainey Bethea in 1936. Bethea did commit despicable crimes of rape and murder and one might want to give an eye-for-an-eye type of punishment, yet rapes and murders did not halt thanks to the event of his public execution. The idea that public executions deter future crimes does not hold water, since public executions were plentiful for the same types of criminal activity prior to 1936, and these crimes still continue today. Horrible crimes persist and will persist, just as terrorism will. We are attacked in the United States because of our values, and our willingness to fight for these values here and abroad, more than any other reason I believe. And while one can undoubtedly raise counterpoints of fighting for interests that contradict our values, by and large, our wars and the reason we are targeted, is cultural dominance. Lyman says “we risk losing what makes us different than our enemies” if we engage in an “any-methods-necessary” approach. That, to some point, is undoubtedly true. However, public executions skew us to the practices of al-Qaeda more than ridding the Earth of a well-known terrorist. Al-Awlaki not only wished to commit violence on innocent American civilians, but has a track record of doing such. By publicly executing people, we lose a certain soft power; we lose an image of being intelligent, compassionate and progressive. By resorting to such tactics, last used in the 30’s, we imitate rogue, immoral and unstable actors; we no longer exemplify “the city upon a hill.”
Al-Awlaki conspired in Yemen from 2004-2011. In 2010, he urged Muslim jihadists in the U.S. to wage violence on their U.S. respective cities. This is different from a domestic lone wolf conniving plans of terror in his basement. That U.S. psychopath has rights if captured, for we must be able to prove he is guilty before we try him. In the case of Al-Awlaki, we knew he was guilty before we killed him. Al-Awlaki impersonated a pure imam, although his multiple San Diego arrests for soliciting prostitution proves differently. He has outspokenly declared war on the United States and called for the murder of our citizens, while actually helping individuals to realize those plans. Of all the roles that Al-Awlaki pretended to be, a U.S. citizen was no longer one of them.
Drone strikes on high-level known terrorists are an efficient way of dealing with a threat. The expectation that Yemen officials would arrest and hand over al-Awlaki is laughable, and if JSOC would have landed in Yemen to procure al-Awlaki’s arrest, this would have ended up in a shootout, most likely killing al-Awlaki anyway, while endangering our skilled soldiers in the process. All in all, this method was cost benefit and effective.
Further, by stating that al-Awlaki deserves a trial, we open up the door for discussion as to whether terrorists are military combatants or criminals. The past two administrations have not really addressed this issue in fear of opening the floodgates to potential court cases. One terrorist has been tried in the past ten years, and the justice system may not be able to support the case load that would follow an acknowledgement of rights to trial. While the holding of individuals suspected of terrorism in black cells and Guantanamo Bay without charges is a grave human rights abuse and the issue needs to be addressed, the targeted killing of a known terrorist is not a human rights abuse, it is merely a tactical killing. There was no grey area as to whether al-Awlaki was deeply involved in al-Qaeda; this is somewhat different from individuals in Guantanamo. We targeted a terrorist who supported and carried out anti-American human rights abuses/and asymmetrical warfare of his own.
Two problems though do come to mind with this targeted killing: the life of al-Awlaki’s speeches and books, as well as a slippery slope of targeting “terrorsists.” While al-Awlaki is gone, his recorded speeches and writings live on. These publications will have as much of an effect today as they did prior. Overall though, one less prominent evil-doer is in the world and that is a good thing. We must strategically discuss action plans to combat his lasting jihadist rhetoric. How will we respond? That is question one now that this administration must respond to in relation to his killing.
Secondly, the targeted killing of individuals holding past citizenship will become as much of an issue as the government makes it. After George Bush clumsily announced the broad definition of “war on terrorism”, Russia saw a precedent for a preemptive attack on individuals who were clamoring for self-determination, not terrorists by international standards. We cannot allow the lines of who is a terrorist to blur; this is a political, legal and public duty. Very few in the international arena, being of sound mind, could argue that al-Qaeda is not a terrorist group. If other states garner this type of UAV power, we will have to ensure that their “terrorists” truly are such. Future drone strikes cannot extend to political advocates, U.S. domestic criminals, political opposition in authoritarian states; or domestic opposition in democratic states. Drone strikes are obviously inappropriate to use against U.S. citizens in Baton Rouge, but we cannot say the same for an individual who was deeply immersed in al-Qaeda and who not only spoke about, but physically supported, terror on our citizens, while residing in Yemen. Unethical drone strikes may not have a verbatim description, but much like Justice Potter’s description of obscene pornography, “I will know it when I see it.” Al-Awlaki’s killing sparks no notion of the sort. The fear is that big brother will take drone strikes too far, and while this is a legitimate concern, we ought not bring into question the killing of a known terrorist abroad. We eliminated an individual who recruited, supported and assisted individuals to decimate our kin. While al-Awlaki does not deserve a public execution; he definitely deserved, and got what he had coming to him.

1 comment:

Josh Lyman said...

I will try to be brief yet clear in my response, I apologize if I fail at either.
1. Did Al-Awlaki change his citizenship? If he did not, he was still a U.S. citizen and the Constitution applies. No due process = Illegal actions by the U.S. government; it does not matter if we think it was justified or not. You allow the government power to act illegally because it was justified and you will allow them to decide when they wish to obey the Constitution and when not to.
2. Once this country did publically execute its criminals and now that we do not we have prisons full of criminals not fit for society. We could both save money and have more fitting punishments by executing murderers and castrating rapists. (They would only offend once). Some do not deserve compassion, like a guilty Al-Awlaki, murderers, rapists, and others.
3. I will stipulate we are attacked for out values and our freedom. However are we more or less free since 9/11? TSA is only one indicator that we are not. Security and liberty are two values that can be traded for each other. Less security, yields more liberty, and vice versa. The terrorists want us to have less liberty.
4. And yes, even with public executions crime would continue, it is part of nature; just like if guns were banned, murder would continue.
5. A trial for Al-Awlaki would not confuse how to treat terrorists who are not U.S. citizens, they can be classified as pirates and thus dealt with in the manner the state deems necessary. Yet to say that since we knew Al-Awlaki was guilty without having a trial and could be executed because it was without any doubt make me want to know something by that logic. If I observe a murder, can I shoot the murderer without a trial, since I watch the murder, thus I know without a doubt he is guilty? The magnitude of the crime does not change the requirements given by the Constitution. And the Constitution is what protects our rights, given to us by God; the same rights and values that we are said to be attacked for. To betray those rights and values in our defense is to let the terrorists win.