In a story that has frightening long-term implications, radical Islamic cleric and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was executed last week by a drone strike in Yemen, without due process. The federal government’s response to why such an extreme and unprecedented step needed to be taken? al-Awlaki is a national security issue; capturing and trying him is too dangerous; but don’t worry we should trust them because they have secret evidence proving he is really guilty.
“Patchy”. That’s the word officials used to describe their evidence that al-Awlaki was an operational leader in al-Qaeda. Specifically, there is strong evidence that he had no operational involvement in two cases he has been linked to; the Christmas day underwear bomber Abdulmutallab, and a British Airways incident on a US-bound airplane.
While Abdulmutallab was a fervent admirer of al-Awlaki’s preachings the only evidence linking al-Awlaki to the Detroit incident is a phone call between al-Awlaki and someone who the government believes, but is not sure, was Abdulmutallab. Can you imagine a prosecutor going before a judge in a murder case and trying to indict someone based on evidence that the suspect might have called the actual murderer, let alone actually convicting him of a capital offense.
The evidence, or lack thereof, in the British Airways case might be even more egregious. The case involved a British Airways employee plotting to blow-up an airplane on its way to the US. Officials recovered emails from the employees computer detailing “operational contact” between the employee and his brother in Yemen. The link to al-Awlaki? Supposedly he was “sitting next to the brother” while the attack was being plotted. To quote Erin Burnett for a second, “seriously?” No wonder al-Awlaki wasn’t brought up on charges in an actual courtroom.
Make no mistake, I am shedding no tears for al-Awlaki. Up until his death al-Awlaki was openly advocating for the murder of innocent people and was al-Qaeda’s most famous Internet preacher. By all accounts he was a loathsome human being, and he may very well have been guilty of the crimes he was executed for. But what if he wasn’t?
The precedent has now been set that the executive branch can execute American citizens not only without due process, but based on “patchy” evidence. If this new power to kill without a trial is being used so carelessly by the Obama administration, what could we see under a President Bachmann or a President Perry?