An Execution of Civil Rights

In March, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made a speech to students and faculty at Northwestern University addressing government policy on extrajudicial executions of American citizens. He made three basic points outlining the legality of these targeted killings of U.S. citizens:

First, that the U.S. government has determined the citizen in question to be an imminent and violent threat to American lives. Secondly, that the capture of the citizen is not feasible. And finally, that the operation would be carried out in accordance with law of war principles.

“‘Due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security,” Holder is quoted as saying. “The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.”

What is wrong with this policy? In essence, it means that the few handful of people that comprise the executive branch of government have the authority to determine who it perceives to be a threat, and who can be executed without any form of trial, judicial review, or public knowledge.

This subjective take on the rights of United States citizens is exactly what makes this policy so bone-chilling. And perhaps the most frightening part of this government theory on the targeting and killing of American citizens is that it has already been put into action.

In 2011, the Obama administration gave the approval for the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was claimed to be working for al-Qaida and linked to the Fort Hood shootings, as well as other terrorism plots. He was targeted and killed in a drone attack in Yemen, along with Pakistani-American Samir Khan, another al-Qaida member. Al-Awlaki’s teenage son was killed a month later while searching for his father in Yemen in yet another drone attack.

Following the death of Al-Awlaki, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act on behalf of his family seeking details regarding the extrajudicial killing, and challenging the U.S. government’s authority to perform such an execution on an American citizen without a trial or judicial review. The CIA responded that it would neither confirm nor deny the existence of any records in regard to the killings.

Hina Shamsi, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, released the following statement in light of Holder’s speech at Northwestern University:

“Few things are as dangerous to American liberty as the proposition that the government should be able to kill citizens anywhere in the world on the basis of legal standards and evidence that are never submitted to a court, either before or after the fact. Anyone willing to trust President Obama with the power to secretly declare an American citizen an enemy of the state and order his extrajudicial killing should ask whether they would be willing to trust the next president with that dangerous power.”

Would we trust a succession of presidents with the subjective power to decide who it believes to be an “imminent threat” to American lives? Would we trust presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, who has alleged through his Islamophobic bigotry that all American-Muslims pose a threat to internal security, to decide who qualifies as a terrorist? In fact, all of the GOP candidates, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney (with the exception of Ron Paul) –– have expressed approval of the targeted killing of U.S. citizens. It’s a scary thought – and it’s even scarier to think this is a policy that has already been put into practice.

Organizations such as the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights have strongly expressed their opposition to this violation of citizen rights. Any organization that calls itself an advocacy group for civil rights must follow action and take a stand against the execution of American citizens by the U.S. government. The American public must stand together to deliver the message that it did not authorize the U.S. government’s killings of American citizens.