Sep 30, 2011

If It Saves One Life: The Case Against Assassination

One of the most oft-used excuses for government interference in the lives of others is like a worn-out joke; “Hey, Bill! Did you hear the one about the the government needing to save your life?”

That’s what enters my mind whenever I hear yet another politician or pundit utter the words “if it saves one life”. The plastic men and women holding the microphone never seem to ask the question I tend to shout  to no one when I hear such clap trap - “So, even if the law resulted in the deaths of a million innocent people to save that life, would it would be worth it?”

On Friday, September 30th, the world’s airwaves and internet lines were crackling with the news of the assassination of another Al Queda “higher-up”, US-born Anwar al-Awlaki. Some reports claimed that the operation was performed by the same Navy Seal team that killed Osama bin Laden. Only this time, instead of a daring raid on a farm, they apparently sent an unmanned drone into the man’s place of residence in Yemen.

Though many media reports claim that al-Awlaki was a “militant”, the government has not formally accused him of any wrong-doing. The greatest “crime” alleged is that he “inspired” terrorists or made contact with them. Both the “underwear bomber” and U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan were alleged to have contacted al-Awlaki and that his “inspiration” drove them to commit their acts.

In other words, al-Awlaki is not accused of a specific harm to anyone. The “crime” of which he’s accused is speaking words the U.S. government finds repugnant.

Of course, this is not the only time that al-Awlaki has been accused. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, al-Awlaki was held for questioning by the FBI. After months of investigation it was determined that he had committed no crime and was freed. Shortly after this he left the U.S. for Yemen and soon after arriving was arrested and held, without charges, in a Yemeni prison. This time for almost two years. Finally, after the intervention of some locals in Yemen, he was released. There are probably many U.S, citizens who would embrace such treatment of themselves if it could save one life.

Unlike the recent hikers in Iran who were finally released (after being charged and given a trial and found guilty), al-Awlaki didn’t have a gaggle of State department officials pestering Yemen for his release while declaring that Yemen’s idea of justice went against everything we in the U.S. claim to hold dear.

No, the state department, even though there was no evidence at that time that al-Awlaki had committed any crimes, were happy to have him rot. The hypocrisy of their stance in this regard was barely noticed or mentioned by the old media.

While the American government has “renditioned” and tortured hundreds of “suspects” around the world without any due process or trial (some of them American citizens) the three hikers in Iran were viewed as a symbol of barbarism. In point of fact, Iran treated the hikers with far more respect for their rights than the US has of its suspected terrorists.

But of course the hypocrisy doesn’t stop there.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab AKA “The underwear bomber” allegedly attempted to bring down an airliner by hiding C4 in his underwear. The botched attempt was averted and Abdulmultallab is in a prison cell awaiting trial, while the man who hasn’t been alleged to have killed anyone, rather he “inspired” others with speech, has been assassinated.

Farouk is an interesting case himself. Originally from Nigeria, he went to college in London and was president of the University College London’s Islamic Society. A child of wealthy Nigerian parents, Umar Farouk had lived in London since his high school years. Touted as a “dream student” by more than one Professor, Farouk was vocally anti-war. Though many news outlets have attempted to paint Farouk as a ticking time-bomb and radical, the actual evidence shows that he was not only a superb student but also a vocal opponent of the US./British war on terror;  so vocal in fact,  that he helped to organize an anti-war awareness conference called the “War-OnTerror Week” co-sponsored by ULCU’s “Stop the War Society”.

While this is not the picture painted by the old media and neoconservative punditry, a look at a poster for the event makes it clear that characterizations claiming the event was pro-terror are an obvious lie.

Assuming that Farouk is absolutely guilty of the crime he is accused, the real circumstances of his turn to darkness are quite different than what is alleged. Even the government has a hard time making the case he had advocated violence prior to his single attempt at lashing out. Instead, they suggest he was converted to violence by shadowy Al Qaeda figures.

Lost in the discussions surrounding this converstion is the timing. His conversion occurred after the US and Britain systematically renounced its former ideals to protect individual rights, abandoning them to instead practice torture and denial of due process, much less basic miranda rights to those captured.

Indeed, the Obama administration’s aggressive pursuit  of “limited miranda” with regard to terror suspects is a complete repudiation of the bill of rights. The “right to remain silent”, agreed by the Supreme Court as being a pre-requisite to justice for any arrested individual, is exactly the right the Bush and Obama administration’s found and find repugnant.

Those who drafted the U.S. Constutition found torture itself to be repugnant. So much so, that what we call the 5th amendment today was included specifically for the purpose of preventing the government from torturing a person to produce witness testimony against himself. (Oh, and just so you aren’t hoodwinked by people who claim that this is a magical right reserved only for those who were born on the blessed soil of America, the U.S. Supreme Court itself disabuses us of this idea in U.S. v Verdugo Urqidez (1994), when it specifically lists the 5th amendment as applying to anyone  “accused”).

While on one hand, the government claims that speech “inspiring” others to commit violence is completely unacceptable - words it doesn’t want to hear - it  now has no problem actually committing violence in order to get a witness to utter the words it wants to hear. ( Such as “I did it”).

Furthermore, it has stepped beyond merely denying due process to denying people their lives based on the words of the President “inspiring” those who are charged with carrying out his orders to assassinate those he deems too dangerous to try.

If you have seen or heard the views of those cheering the government’s actions, you might conclude they heartily accept the “if it saves one life” theory of politics.

No matter that al Awlaki has not been formally charged (much less accused) of hurting anyone. As long as the government merely says he’s responsible for acts committed by those inspired by his words (and the government seems to be quite short on quotes left in context), then they don’t seem to have a problem with assassinating the speaker. The government wouldn’t lie about something like that would it?

As with many government encroachments upon our basic liberties, people tend not to imagine what could happen if they were the ones under attack for their unacceptable speech.

Just last week, Orange county DA Tony Rackauckas made himself very unpopular amongst Police unions and corrupt politicians when he stated boldly, “You have a right to defend yourself from a police officer” while detailing his decision to charge two OC police officers with the murder of Kelley Thomas.

The cheering of DA Rackaukus by normal citizens, who have been watching the constant escalation of nastiness wrecked upon them by those tasked with protecting their rights, was virtually deafening. For now, the DA’s comments and the cheering will be quietly ignored by the old media whereas the words of al-Awlaki, who appears to provide a similar sentiment against the actions of the US government, is vilified and his death celebrated.

What happens when certain “pro-police (state)” lawmakers and politically connected pundits start calling for Rackaukus’ head? Isn’t he endangering the police and inciting violence?

Well, according to this current administration’s precedent and stated doctrine, the President could in fact order the Rackaukus to be assassinated. Is this likely? Perhaps not. But perhaps it is far more likely than many are ready to admit. It would certainly be considered “legal” as the doctrine does not limit assassinations to foreign soil anymore and has never excluded U.S. Citizens.

“But, But!”, say the supporters of this practice, “we cannot afford to bring these dangerous people over for trials! Besides, they don’t deserve rights or meals or lawyers. If we try them, everything good about our society goes to pot!”

Really? And how is it that we can put Tomothy McVeigh,  Ramzi Yousef, Mahmud Abouhalima, Mohammad Salameh, Nidal A. Ayyad, Abdul Rahman Yasin and Ahmad Ajaj on trial without the world coming to an end? All were terrorists and all were given a chance to defend themselves. What possible reason can justify a change in the great traditions of this nation? Why would we rush to embrace the very tyranny we commit US troops to fight abroad?

The real answer to this question is that most are afraid there won’t be any evidence to convict the thousands we have held without bail, trial or formal accusation. They might go free. But there is little likelihood of that actually happening since there are very few who concede that the government might just arrest the wrong people from time to time. They are held or accused, therefore they are guilty.

To those who think that it is safe to cheer on a government which assassinates those whom it has never proved guilty of any criminal act, the life you save by objecting may be your own. If it saves one life, it could be worth it to embrace our constitution and repudiate this dictatorial approach as Ron Paul, Gary Johnson and The ACLU have done.