Why was al-Awlaki Denied His Constitutional Rights as an American Citizen?

On November 25, 2001, American citizen turned Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh was captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan by Afghan Northern alliance forces.  Eleven months later after confessing to fighting with the Taliban against the U.S. and its ally in Afghanistan he was sentenced to 20 years in prison without parole.  On September 30, in Yemen, American citizen and alleged terrorist organizer Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by two Predator drones firing hellfire missiles.  Two Americans treated in two totally different ways.  What could account for the difference in treatment?

Perhaps it’s racism?  John Walker Lindh was a white man from California.  On the other hand, Anwar al-Awlaki was a person of color and worse yet of Arab descent.  Now, if I were a so-called progressive this explanation would fit right in with my world view that whenever anybody who lacks even a drop of Caucasian blood is treated differently than their white counterparts racism is to blame.  But I am not a progressive and therefore have an open mind about why the two men were treated differently.  There are many potential reasons why the two men were treated differently and I don’t believe racism was one of them.

Let’s not forget what happened when Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Administration intended to try Gitmo detainees in federal court in New York City.  There was outrage from the families of 911 victims and Americans in general.  Going into an election year with his approval rating at rock bottom anyway, Obama could ill afford to be in a position where he had to decide the fate of an American in custody accused of terrorism.  Would he grant al-Awlaki his constitutional protections as an American citizen and try him in a federal court or would he throw the Constitution out the window and try him as an enemy combatant in a military tribunal? He certainly would have alienated a portion of voters with either decision.  Maybe Obama decided that Americans have short memories and it would be politically expedient to murder al-Awlaki now more than a year before Americans cast their votes to give them time to forget?

A third explanation for the difference in treatment of Lindh and al-Awlaki could be that our leaders have just become more fascistic over time.  Way before al-Awlaki was murdered, the administration proclaimed its right to murder Americans “suspected” of plotting terror attacks against Americans.  Under this edict, John Hinckley, Jr. Tim McVeigh, and Jared Loughner would simply have been killed after committing their heinous acts.  But instead, the first two were afforded a fair trial and the third is awaiting his date with justice.  What if al-Awlaki was insane like Hinckley?  Because of Obama’s kill order we will never know.

And if anyone thinks congressional leaders or the top two Republican candidates for president were going to speak out against Obama’s homicide you had another thing coming.   Republican frontrunner for the presidential nomination Mitt Romney was quoted as saying, “The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki is a major victory in our fight against Islamist terrorism and proper justice for the numerous attacks and plots he inspired or planned against America”.  Romney went on to commend Obama for his “continued efforts to keep Americans safe”.  Not to be outdone by Romney, Republican presidential candidate, Texas governor Rick Perry called al-Awlaki’s demise “an important victory in the war on terror.  Perry also congratulated Obama for “sticking with the government’s longstanding and aggressive anti-terror policies – for getting another key international terrorist.”

Neither candidate expressed any concern whatsoever about Obama’s total disregard for the rule of law and the rights of an American citizen.  It is not like al-Awlaki was killed on the battlefield.  The hit took place in a desolate part of northern Yemen.  He was riding in a vehicle and had been tracked by intelligence sources.  The U.S. military knew exactly where he was and could have dropped commandos in to capture him like Seal Team 6 allegedly did with Osama bin Laden.

Killing al-Awlaki without regard for his constitutional rights as an American citizen is a threat to every American’s protection against tyrannical government.  In fact, more killings may be coming soon.  Reuters has reported that the White House has created a secret panel in charge of building a kill or capture list of suspected militant Americans.  The panel was established under the authority of no law and without any requirements to keep public records of its decisions or operations.  Reminiscent of what Nazi Germany did to its own citizens, Obama has fully assumed the power to unilaterally assassinate Americans he suspects are a threat to America.  Thus, the explanation for the difference in treatment between Lindh and al-Awlaki:  our leaders have become more fascistic.

Article first published as Why Was al-Awlaki Denied His Constitutional Rights as an American Citizen? on Blogcritics.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina

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