The recent report that a United States born Yemen terrorist named Anwar al-Awlaqi was killed in a targeted attack by US forces holds unique importance primarily because he was a US citizen. Yes, he was a terrorist and vowed the destruction of the United States and its citizens.
But the precedent that has been largely ignored because he was a bad, bad man: Citizens of the United States are entitled to a trial. This fundamental right is outlined specifically in the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution so it is an absolute certainty that the killing of Mr. al-Awlaqi was in violation of the 6th Amendment.
All a mere technicality these days however. The Constitution is just a piece of paper now only to be obeyed when convenient. Advocates for this killing, especially on the political Right, say that it's the terrorists who flout our laws and so the ends justify the means in the killing of al-Awlaqi. This is very short sighted. If chaos should come to the United States, there are people in our ranks that could suddenly find themselves branded as terrorists. Radio talk show host Michael Savage is banned from traveling to Britain right now and is prominently featured on a list of known terrorists and murderers. I imagine if he traveled there he'd be arrested. The Right Wing talking heads on FOX News should think about this.
Could al-Awlaqi have been tried in Absentia? Most certainly he could have and should have and people have been tried like this in the past as fugitives from justice but ever since 9/11 2001, the United States government has been short on trials and due process and long on imprisonment and stonewalling.
George W. Bush made a colossal error in never putting the prisoners of war held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba on trial. This left things uncomfortably in the hands of the next president and which still sees no sign of resolution despite the Department of Justice saying they want to now try them as criminals to much uproar. President Bush should have had them tried and sentenced before the end of his second term. Even the POWs of WWII were eventually given hearings and either sentenced or sent home, certainly none but the worst had been held for 10 years like now.
But the killing of Anwar al-Awlaqi is something else indeed. He was clearly not like the rest of his terrorist brethren and being tried when he was alive one way or another would have served a nation like ours better than just killing him without his Constitutional right to due process. Mr. al-Awlaqi never renounced his US citizenship so to this we were bound. Even Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh got a trial. But that was then, this is now. Due process has been cast out the window.
Our ability to survive as a civil society today is not guaranteed. If we are destined to survive then the rule of law and equal justice under the law must be something we still must still strive to achieve. And if the Constitution of the United States is to remain our guiding template, it must be adhered to.
What's the difference if we ignore the 6th Amendment, the 4th, the 1st or perhaps the 2nd? No difference. None at all.