War-time law violates our basic liberties
Published: Monday, March 12, 2012
Updated: Monday, March 12, 2012 21:03
Last Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said that it is lawful for the U.S. government to kill American citizens if it believes they are linked to Al Qaeda, and therefore a potential threat to the country. Not only does this theory deny individuals their fundamental rights to due process as citizens of the United States, but it also encourages the government to dispense with these liberties in the name of national security.
The debate over how the government treats our rights during a time of war has emerged once again as a result of the targeted killing last year in Yemen of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric born in New Mexico.
The issue at stake here isn't even if the administration should have killed al-Awlaki–it's that they did it without first having a trial or some other sort of judicial process. Although Awlaki wasn't killed in the United States, we do not lose our citizenship simply because we cross the border. No matter where we currently are in the world, we are U.S. citizens and our government should treat us as such.
According to a recent New York Times article on Holder's speech to Northwestern University's law school, "It was notable for the nation's top law enforcement official to declare that it is constitutional for the government to kill citizens without any judicial review under certain circumstances."
The importance of adhering to the judicial process is outlined in the Fourteenth Amendment, which clearly states that the government cannot deprive a citizen of "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Killing a suspect without the formalities required in the courtroom threatens our Constitutional liberties by taking away the lives of American citizens without judicial processes.
Holder says, "‘Due process' and ‘judicial process' are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security.
The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process."
But this doesn't add up. What is "due process of the law" mean if not the idea of being innocent until proven guilty and right to trial by a jury of one's peers? He was, after all, an American citizen.
Now, I understand that the people the government is targeting are suspected to have connections to Al Qaeda, but there must be better, constitutionally sound ways to handle suspected terrorists than condemning them preemptively to death.
After all, what are we fighting for if we lose our inherent sense of what America means? How can we condemn totalitarian regimes for arbitrarily killing political dissenters and the like if we, too, kill our own citizens without giving them due process of the law? In the face of terrorism, more than ever, we should strive to keep a hold on what makes us special in the first place.
We should not become the same as the regimes we condemn in the rest of the world.
What is a government's job if not to protect the lives of its people?
While some may say the government's actions are doing just that, it's a slippery slope between killing those we deem domestic terrorists without judicial review and killing those that simply disagree with the government without judicial processes.
The fact of the matter is that these people should be tried for their crimes to determine if they are, indeed, terrorists. The argument is not whether or not what the suspects are doing is wrong, but if the government's approach to handling this situation is right.
Domestic terrorism is a real threat, but this does not mean that the fundamental tenets of the Constitution should be left by the wayside so the government can kill citizens without adequately providing for the American legal processes.
Punishment should come through prosecution. Although combating terrorism should be a top priority, it does not mean we should ignore what makes us fundamentally American.