Who Will Be Next?

There is something very sad—or perhaps I should say obscene—about the President of the United States standing before the press corps and personally taking credit for another death. It is as if he was bragging about a basketball score after his side had won. Worse, by rubbing out Anwat-al-Awaki with a drone over Yemen on Friday, the president seems to be replaying the we-killed-Osama card, reaching for one more nudge up in the polls as poverty and unemployment rise.

Let us imagine that a few years from now Iraq has a stable government, the 10,000 American troops still there are encamped outside Baghdad, and the Iraqi president and his advisers feel it is time to punish those responsible for the war which decimated their country, causing an estimated one million deaths. They have also bought some drones, and, with the cooperation of Arab neighbors, have the skill and technology to deliver a payload. They compile a list of those U.S. leaders most responsible for the killings and destroy them, their families and neighbors.

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Our reaction, of course, would be that this is outrageous! A violation of international law! How dare they? If they had evidence that U.S. leaders were war criminals they should present the evidence, indict them, bring them before an international court, and punish them according to the rule of law. No?

While reading the New York Times and Washington Post on Saturday and Sunday, I did not come across a single editorial or columnist willing to criticize the United States decision to murder Awlaki. Only the New York Daily News gave op-ed space to Ron Paul, who argued that one is never justified in violating the U. S. Constitution, for any reason, when the Constitution guarantees every citizen—even an Arab who had grown to hate America and now leads propaganda campaigns against us—the right to a fair trial and due process of law. Meanwhile the Times and Post buried the weaknesses in the government’s case in their news stories. The Post blessed the killing as legal and moral, the news report couched the case against Awlaki in jargon like “has been implicated in helping,” and “is believed to have inspired” and “has been linked to an attempt.” At least seven people were killed, including one young American blogger, Samir Khan, editor of a jihadist magazine Inspire, who had also turned against his homeland. For this he must die? The other five are nameless Arabs. What do our country’s actions say to them? They should know better than to hang out near Awlaki? Their tough luck?

For another perspective on our killing, we must turn to the British press—The Independent and The Guardian. Several writers suggest that the attack took place right after their president Saleh returned from hospital leave in Saudi Arabia after having been injured in a bomb attack, so that by helping the Americans in the killing he might get a reprieve; the U.S. had urged him to step down. Another pointed out that the claim by the American press that Awlaki was head of the Al Qaeda in Arabia (AQAP) is untrue and that his killing will not reduce the terrorist attacks coming out of Yemen, and that he played no operational role in AQAP.

But the strongest commentary in The Guardian (Sept. 30) comes from Michael Ratner, speaking for the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU. “Is this the world we want? Where the president of the United States can place an American citizen, or anyone else for that matter, living outside a war zone on a targeted assassination list, and then have him murdered by drone strike.”  Awlaki may be engaged in plots against the United States, he writes, “but we do not know that because he was never indicted for a crime.” Furthermore, while the U.S. knew where he was for the purpose of a drone strike, why was no effort made to arrest him in Yemen, which is supposedly our ally? Even if Obama’s claim has some validity, “unless Awlaki’s alleged terrorist actions were imminent and unless deadly force was employed as a last resort, this killing constitutes murder.”

His conclusion should chill our blood: “There appears to be no limit to the president’s power to kill anywhere in the world, even if it involves killing a citizen of his own country. Today, it’s in Yemen; tomorrow it could be in the U.K. or even in the United States.”
 

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 1 month ago
Perhaps the Republican party's search for a suitable candidate is over.  Habemus Barack Hussein Obama.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 1 month ago
Amen, amen, Fr. Schroth.  Thank you for writing this.  I hope that you - and the entire Catholic press - will continue to write in ways that radically challenge mainstream news perspectives.

We in America have grown so used to our supposed exceptional status in the world that we are blind to what we do in the name of our security.  And then we ask, why do they hate us so much?
6 years 1 month ago
Absolutely. When the President is I, the Jury, no one is safe. The next Republican president could take a notion that Mr. Obama is a terrorist, and there is no process that would stop him from droning Mr Obama, with his family as "collateral damage" (another stretch we have grown accustomed to).
Marie Rehbein
6 years 1 month ago
It seems to me that we have a history of this going back before this presidency.  How is killing al-Awaki and bin Laden different than killing Saddam Hussein?  I think it's different in that these two individuals (bin Laden, al-Awaki) were more focused on harming innocent Americans, while Hussein was more general in his condemnation of the United States.  I think it's different because we did not mobilize our entire military and did not destroy Yemen or Pakistan in the process of rooting out these enemies.
ed gleason
6 years 1 month ago
Boasting about death is obscene and I must have missed the boasting. However I think there was an almost unanimous consensus about AlQeada being  enemy combatants. So where does the word assassination fit in?. Were the thousands of US, Brit, French troops invading on D Day assassins.?' Were the air,navy, shells assassin weapons?. Was Admiral Yamamoto targeted and shot down over the New Guinea jungle assassination too.? I think the targeting of enemies in war has always been seen as lawful. The problem of some here seems to be that there exists a belief that  'un-fair' technology is  being used by the US. Un-fair technology that limits collateral damage seems much more moral than  what happened at Dresden or are too  youthful experience/ memories the problem here?  carpet bombing is immoral..and I don't remember much discussion about its being so.    
david power
6 years 1 month ago
I am really curious as to what Fr Ray and the rest of the commentators would do in Obama's place? Obama ,could not deny that they killed him.Going before the press corps to announce that a threat to America has been eliminated is news to report.Maybe not good news but news.
This is 4th generation warfare. Obama has two choices Kill or let the American people be killed.
He swore to protect his country and he is trying his best to do that.It is an imperfect world and so he cannot just negotiate his way around the terrorists.It is interesting that some people think he is really a Muslim and when he did not overreact to the attempts on American soil in recent years the likes of Krauthammer claimed that he was not interested in defending America ,Americans or their values. 
Guess that one bit the dust!
What would you guys do?Maybe you have a good answer.
It is easy for us to sit back and judge the guy,but we do not have to live with the consequences.When Al-Queda finally kills a few more thousand Americans(not to mention Muslims on their own soil) people will say Obama should have done more to prevent it.
What would you guys do?You know there is a guy planning to wipe out half of New York, you know where he is,he has no intention of giving himslef up and will kill as many as he can in a fight.Do you go with the drone or bury your head in the sand and hope that nothing happens till Mitt Romney is in office?   
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 1 month ago
This guy was, at best, a mouthpiece. Killing him was political theater. To think that killing him will make anyone safer is wishful thinking, which is what political theater appeals to. It's like torture. It doesn't replace the hard work of intelligence and interdiction but it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy that something's being done. The real work of stopping terrorism is probably not all that glamorous so we need this.  It also establishes us as the incarnation of Zeus, dispensing death from above at will. So why doesn't everybody love us?

Tom Maher
6 years 1 month ago
President Obama has rightly received high praise from almost every American for the difficult but highly successs military operations against Osama bin Laden as the head of Al Queda,  an militant organization that has repeatedly attacked the United States for almost two decades.   Rightly information on this May 1, 2011 raid and bin Laden's death needed to be publically disclosed by the President. 

The President openness and clarity of his military policy and actions are refreshing and welcome. What our military policy and actions are, needs to be accurately communicated to the nation and the world.  Everyone now knows exactly where President Obama stands by his actions.  Obama's action makes it very clear to everyone that if you attack the United States you can expext to be vigorously and relentlessly pursued and eventually eliminated as a military threat. Let's not forget that it took almost 10 years of searching to find bin Laden who all the while was growing Al Queda as a military force and planning fresh attacks on the United States personnel and citizens all over the world from the safety of his remote headquarters compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. 

Any U.S. President has the legal and moral duty to defend the United States from  continued deadly attacks and constant threat of attacks by Al Queda operatives by use of deadly force and will be widely supported by the American public. 
John Barbieri
6 years 1 month ago
What else would we expect from the bottomless well of incompetence that is Barack Obama?
Ashley Green
6 years 1 month ago
Thankyou Father Schroth.  Like many others, I supported and defended the killing of bin Laden as a justifiable action given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the event.  But this latest targeted assasination has given me cause to reconsider my earlier position and conclude that those who objected to the execution-style killing of bin Laden were probably right.  And how anyone can justify the totally unnecessary killings of the five unknown Arabs as "collateral damage" is beyond me.  I wonder if such people would be so accomodating if their own family members ever became the collateral damage of someone else's agenda.
Crystal Watson
6 years 1 month ago
I agree with you, Fr. Schroth.  BTW, I did see that Glen Greenwald had a post about this at Salon ....  "The dueprocess-free assassination  of a U.S. citizen is now reality"  ...  http://politics.salon.com/2011/09/30/awlaki_6/singleton/" 
david power
6 years 1 month ago
I ask this not in a negative way but as a genuine question.What would you guys have done in his shoes??Have you thought about it?I think I am missing something or else that you are avoiding something. I am aware of why people dislike America.Sometimes it is because they dislike the way Americans behave as tourists ,sometimes it is because it is cool to hate America. Then there are a rare few who make a principled stand against the foreign policy of the U.S government.
Ashley ,Would you have given the order on Bin Laden? If not what would you have done?Nothing?Say a Rosary? 
Fr Schroth, what would you have done in Obama's place  if you knew that you had a clear target on a man intent on wiping out your entire country?I am not saying that it is moral but I am confused as to what course of action Obama should have taken.
Can anybody supply an alternative to what he did??
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 1 month ago
Bin Laden was living in a comfortable suburb of Islamabad.  He wasn't living in a cave in Northern 
Pakistan as we were led to believe.  So why don't we wage war on Pakistan who was aiding and abetting Bin Laden, maybe all the way back to 9/11.  There's all sorts of things going on backstage and all we see is the show.  By the way, to answer David Powers' question,  I'd never get to do anything in Obama's position because they'd shoot me long before.   
Crystal Watson
6 years 1 month ago
David asks - "What would you guys have done in his shoes?"

As Beth mentioned, I'd have him captured and brought back for trial.
Thomas McCullough
6 years 1 month ago
It is absurd to attach one's own agenda to this story like writing "bottomless well of incompetence that is Barack Obama." It's a legitimate opinion that one has a right to hold. However the real depressing thing about this is that every president I have lived under back to Eisenhower would have done (and frequently did) the same smug crowing.
James Heyman
6 years 1 month ago
We need to stop believing that we are qualified to be the conscience of the world! We need to concentrate on solving our own problems, creating jobs for the unemployed, homes for the homeless, ending govenment funding for the wanton murder of someone less able to defend themselves than a member of a terrorist organization, and calling it "freedom of choice"!

We need a government that will study history and not constantly repeat the same mistakes!
Robert Dean
6 years 1 month ago
I have to wonder what intelligence Mr. Obama had been given about this man that we-and Fr. Schroth-aren't privy to.
6 years 1 month ago
Mr Dean, I stopped wondering about the presidents' better intelligence than ours after I read the Pentagon Papers and realized the average New York Times reader had better information than the Vietnam era presidents. It's not that the Times (and other papers of the era) was infallible. But their information wasn't filtered through self-serving bureaucrats and sycophants whose jobs depend on telling the president what he wants to hear.
HAROLD HARTINGER
6 years 1 month ago
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) website gives the full details of its unsuccessful lawsuit challenging targeted killings by the United States.
See,  CCR and the ACLU v. OFAC and Al-Aulaqi v. Obama
david power
6 years 1 month ago
Thanks Beth , Crystal and Stan for your answers.
It would probably be tougher to get done than a simple hit but would of course be a more satisfactory outcome.In the case of Bin Laden I think it was beyond the impossible  .Nevertheless, thanks for answering a question.
 
Thomas Rooney
6 years 1 month ago
Mary asked what the difference is between the killings of Hussien, al-Awaki, and bin Laden:

Hussein was tried, convicted, and executed by an Iraqi court.

The SEAL team went into bin Laden's compound with the purpose of capture.  OBL was killed when he resisted.

Al-Awaki was an AMERICAN CITIZEN.  Most likely guilty of treason, mass murder, conspiracy to commit mass murder and a host of other crimes.  However "most likely guilty" is not enough to convict anyone.  As an AMERICAN CITIZEN,  al-Awaki was denied due process and a trial. 

We have a Constitution and rule of law in this country; they can't be arbitrarily ignored just because we have someone in our sights.  If his rights as a citizen can be dismissed, so can yours.
ed gleason
6 years 1 month ago
Hitler Germany called back and got back thousands of German Americans to the fatherland starting in 1933. How many fought and were killed on D-Day and across France, Belium Holland, Germany till 4-1945. capture them all? 
  
Thomas Rooney
6 years 1 month ago
Ed -

I see what you're getting at...but that still doesn't answer the question.  What crime did al-Awiki commit?  He, as far as we know, did not take up arms against the US as the German Americans you mentioned appear to have (and could you provide a source for this?  I'm not trying to fact-check you, I'm genuinely interested.)

Thanks.
Thomas Rooney
6 years 1 month ago
Error!

"My point was not that I think Al-Awaki was innocent of treason and inciting terrorist acts against our country; I believe he was."

SHOULD read "I believe he was guilty."  Want to make that CRYSTAL clear.
Marie Rehbein
6 years 1 month ago
Thomas,

I don't think we have changed the rule of law in this country by this one assassination.  He was a citizen by chance, born to a couple who were not citizens during a temporary period of residence in this country.  A citizen is a citizen to some extent, but citizenship involves more than the accident of birth, and it might be argued that al-Awaki had forfeited his citizenship to the extent that it was a mere technicality in which he took no interest.  He could have made himself available for trial, as it was widely known that the US government considered his behavior treasonous, but he didn't.  Those of us who fear that our government could simply decide to do away with us without trial should remember to make ourselves available for trial.  If we don't then maybe we would be wiser now to expect the possibility of death. 


Thomas Rooney
6 years 1 month ago
Marie says
<<I don't think we have changed the rule of law in this country by this one assassination.>>

How many assasinations do you think would be sufficient to affect such change?

<<Those of us who fear that our government could simply decide to do away with us without trial should remember to make ourselves available for trial.>>

I disagree with this completely...let me exercise my right to a fair trial before the government dismissed that right and assasinates me???  Really ???  What if the government decides tomorrow that Catholics represent a clear and present danger to the United States?  Historically something like this is not out of the realm of possibility (think of McCarthy witch-hunts for Communists)  Will you renounce your faith and turn yourself in, to make sure you get your trial?  I won't.   

A citizen is a citizen...not to some extent.  A citizen is a citizen, PERIOD.  To reiterate my point, Al Awaki was most likely guilty of high treason and a host of other horrible crimes against this country.  "MOST LIKELY" IS NOT ENOUGH.

Just my opinion...I'll step off my soapbox for the time being.  :)
Crystal Watson
6 years 1 month ago
I just wanted to add that I think Thomas is right.  As Glenn Greenwald wrote in his post I mentioned above .... http://politics.salon.com/2011/09/30/awlaki_6/singleton/ ....

'What’s most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar (“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What’s most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government’s new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government.'
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 1 month ago
It looks to me like Obama could have captured Awaki and brought him to trial.
Marie Rehbein
6 years 1 month ago
Thomas,

I live here in al-Awaki's birthplace, so I have been hearing about him for quite some time.  At one point, his father was asking the State Department to stop going after him because he was not the kind of person to say and do the things they were saying was saying and doing, but the reality is that he was inciting people in this country to undertake acts of terrorism.  Maybe we needed to wait until the trial of the Fort Hood shooter to implicate al-Awaki more thoroughly in the public mind, but this man's behavior was treason since he was a citizen.  Had we taken the time to extradite and try him in a court of law, the end result would have been a death sentence. 
Thomas Rooney
6 years 1 month ago
Thanks Marie -

My point was not that I think Al-Awaki was innocent of treason and inciting terrorist acts against our country; I believe he was. 

My point was whether I think he's guilty or not, whether anyone THINKS he's guilty or not is irrelevant; he was an AMERICAN CITIZEN.  He had the RIGHT to a trial by jury under our system of law.  That RIGHT cannot be waived or dismissed because we decided not to "take the time to extradite him and try him in a court of law", no matter how obvious we think his crimes are.

If our system of law doesn't protect every citizen, if it can be dismissed at whim or because someone is "obviously guilty", then no citizen is protected.  They can come for you or for me as easily as they came for him.
Marie Rehbein
6 years 1 month ago
Respecting your desire to take a break here, I just want to add that al-Awaki's father brought a case to court last year in the US where he was trying to assert his son's civil rights, but the judge dismissed it because only his son had standing to do so.  The claim was made that it would be unsafe for his son to present himself for trial, but the judge ruled that he could have invoked the protections of international law, but chose not to.  In addition, the son had publicly denounced the U.S. legal system and said Muslims are not bound by Western law.  It's almost as if bringing this case set the legal foundation for legally assassinating al-Awaki without trial.  Just the opposite of the father's intentions.

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