While The American Conservative (TAC) magazine and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) might seem strange bedfellows, ideologically they are not. TAC is conservative in the old sense of the word, you know, law and order, constitutionalism and a noninterventionist foreign policy. And despite having taken some ill-advised and highly visible wrongheaded stands, for the most part, the ACLU is the leading defender of American rights and liberties. And that is why both came out this week criticizing the Central Intelligence Agency's killing of a US citizen in Yemen.
Last Friday, a CIA operated drone fired a Hellfire missile at a vehicle convoy in Yemen, killing New Mexico-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and several others. Al-Awlaki, a US citizen, was the acknowledged target of the attack. Republican presidential candidate Congressman Ron Paul called it an assassination, and that's exactly what it was, in direct contravention of President Ronald Reagan's executive order prohibiting agents of the U.S. government from assassination. It was also a violation of al-Awlaki’s constitutionally guaranteed right to due process under the fifth and fourteenth amendment.
That al-Awlaki is a bad guy is moot; the streets are full of bad guys. And while the cheerleaders for this killing have explained that al-Awlaki was the inspiration for the failed Underpants Bomber (2009), the failed Time Square Bomber (2010) and the U.S. Army major who killed 13 and wounded 30 more at Fort Hood two years ago, they haven't explained how that relates to depriving him of his life without indictment, trial and conviction.
The CIA has claimed, ex post facto, that al-Awlaki was “the most important operational al-Qaeda operative,” more important than anyone operating in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but that story is getting thin. The CIA has claimed to kill “the second in command of al-Qaida” so many times it has become a punchline of a joke, as in, what's the most dangerous job in the world?
Paul said in New Hampshire this week that President Obama could be impeached for the killing of al-Awlaki, and while doing so might be going too far, it is indicative of how serious this action is. For President Obama to sanction this killing in flagrant disregard of the Constitution and Executive Order is a serious violation of his public trust. But don't look to the Republican presidential contenders other than Paul for censure; Michele Bachman and Mitt Romney thought the killing was just dandy, and Romney went out of his way to thank President Obama for keeping America safe.
Ironically, these kinds of killings are not keeping America safe. Historically, counterinsurgency operations that fail to seize and maintain the moral high ground are doomed to failure. And though the spectacular death of a jackass like al-Awlaki satisfies our desire for revenge, it does nothing to further the knowledge that we are a fair and just nation of laws, which is kind of the difference between us and them, isn't it?