Last Friday, Anwar al-Awlaki, a leading Al Qaeda recruiter and operations planner, was bombed and killed. He had finished his breakfast in Yemen and was walking to his car when a Predator drone unleashed a Hellfire missile, killing him and several members of his entourage. These facts are not disputed by anyone. Had al-Awlaki been anyone else, the attack would have generated very little buzz. It would have been a below-the-fold story; a bottom of the newscast event.
But al-Awlaki was not just anyone. He held dual American and Pakistani citizenship. He was born in Arizona and lived the first 26 years of his life in the United States. The outcry over his killing has been astounding. It doesn’t seem anyone doubts that he was an important and active member of Al Qaeda. Nor does it seem as if anyone doubts one of Al Qaeda’s goals is to destroy the United States through terror and subversion. The problem a large segment of the population seems to have trouble grasping is that those two facts are intertwined and inseparable. An American citizen was targeted for assassination by the our armed forces.
Were that the case, I would agree that the killing was out of bounds. But here is the point I think everyone missed: al-Awlaki had renounced his US citizenship in favor of a pan-Arabic citizenship. He did not consider himself an American citizen any longer – and had, in fact, dedicated his life to destroying his former country. His killing was no different than killing any other enemy combatant on the battlefield. End of story.
What gets me particularly frustrated is that this another case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. People are focusing on the abuses of power perpetrated in the name of national security – but they aren’t focusing on the actual abuses. Warrantless searches and seizures, surveillance and a host of other violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments ensconced in Section II of the Patriot Act (an Orwellian title if ever there was one) are routinely accepted by today’s society. Think about it: most Americans are well versed in some of these provisions. They are what allows a TSA agent to strip search you at an airport. But like the sheeple we’ve become, we acquiesce to these demands in the name of security. I often wonder how many Americans are aware that without a search warrant, DHS can read your email, track your internet activity, listen to your phone conversations, plant listening devices in your home and office, recover your voicemail, or track your every movement by GPS (including the one we all carry everywhere we go – our cell phones)? How many realize that the government can arrest you, withhold bail, suspend your right of habeas corpus and waive your Miranda rights – all at their whim? These are some of the extraordinary powers granted to the Executive Branch under Title II.
Do you even care that these most basic protections from government power have been circumvented? Or are you one of the millions who don’t care, as long as the government is “protecting you?”
If you’re one of the latter group, you might be best served to remember this quote from Ben Franklin:
“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”