Us Government: Killer or Savior

October 21, 2011

Political Theory


This excerpt expands off the post that was submitted a week ago.  A fellow student, in his post, references the conflict between Mill’s belief on freedom of expression and the situation involving an American terrorist and the US government’s power.  In addition to the relevance of Mill’s in this argument, I would contend that Socrates theory on the types of justice, procedural and substantive, correlate directly with Awlaki’s murder.

The American military recently sought out an American citizen and murdered him in the country of Yemen, affording this man no trial or case to plead his charges.  This man, Anwar Al-Awlaki, was an American born terrorist, CIA’s number one most wanted American terrorist, and posed a threat to the American people.  All this said, did the American government and military have the power to murder Al-Awlaki before he went under trial?

Three terrorists attacks have been traced back to Anwar, who resides in Yemen, but has American citizenship.  Anwar had major ties with Al Quaida and sources claim him as Al-Qaida’s highest recruiter of Western Civilians.  Born in New Mexico, Al-Awlaki’s death was approved by the Whitehouse in 2010.

NBC stated, “For the past several years, Al-Awlaki has been more dangerous even than Osama Bin Laden had been.  The killing of Al-Awlaki is a tremendous tribute to President Obama and the men and women of our intelligence community.”  Our country is positive that the assassination of this AMERICAN born terrorist will help with the war on terror.  However, whether or not this assassination will cure our country of expected terrorist attacks, does it go against the constitution and the way of the Americans to kill an American citizen without giving a fair trial?  The Constitution’s sixth amendment states all citizens have the “right to speedy trial, confrontation of witnesses.”  On the other hand, amendment five writes, ” No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger.”  Can this specific case plea that the public was in danger with Al-Awlaki alive?  At the same time, how can any single entity decide whether this assassination was in the good of the people?  Many would argue that because all Americans are promised a fair trial in court, Awlaki deserved one as well.

According to Socrates, there are two ways of viewing justice.  One side of the spectrum looks deeper than just a process of the majority, by examining whether the verdict promotes truth, human happiness, and the glory of god and nation, also known as a substantive way of justice.  The other form of justice is the result of an outcome that comes out of a legitimate process, known as procedural.  When discussing Obama’s assassination of Awlaki, which can be disputed as a very subjective form of justice, which Socratic form of justice would the murder of this American terrorist fall under?  Although no trial was held, if the assassination of the CIA’s most wanted terrorist embellished “human happiness” because of more public safety, while also promoting the truth, then this process would fall under the category of a substantive take on justice.  However, most of America’s justice falls under the category of procedural, examples being: passing of a law, voting, and court trials, where the majority decides the verdict.  This being said, should an American terrorist, an individual whose intentions are to create anarchy within America, change the idea behind a process?  If Awlaki was given a fair trial, the veridct would be known before the trial even began.  Although all of America may be exposed to this truth, does he still deserve the right to this procedural form of justice.  Should the fact that Awlaki’s main intention is to destroy American democracy cease him the right to a fair procedural trial?

There have been multiple attempts at both assassinating Awlaki, as well as kidnapping him.  After several attempts, there came a point when the primary goal of the American government was to cease the power that this man held.  In this case, that was done through murdering Awlaki.  Having lived in Yemen for over three years, Awlaki was extremely difficult to capture, and the president decided that instead of wasting resources on kidnapping him, murdering him would be simpler and quicker.

As lethal as Awlaki could be toward the American public, being an American citizen he is promised the same rights that you and I are guaranteed.  Thus posing the question, were America’s actions an act of hypocrisy?

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4 Comments on “Us Government: Killer or Savior”

  1. jonkeren Says:

    In most situations the actions that the United States government took could be considered hypocritical. However, the assassination of the homegrown terrorist Awlaki was a very unique one. Since the founding of this great nation of ours, public safety has always been the number one priority. Therefore when situations arise when American lives could be at stake certain actions must be taken in order to protect these innocent people. One of the best examples of this was when President Abraham Lincoln suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus. Suspension of this right allows for people to be arrested and detained without a trial. During the early stages of the Civil War President Lincoln suspended the constitutionally protected right to writs of Habeas Corpus because he felt that public safety was in danger. It may have been considered hypocritical since he was curtailing a right that was guaranteed to every American citizen, but it was in the best interest of the people because it saved lives. This right was suspended again in 2006 by President George Bush with his signing into law of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. This act states that ” no court, justice or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.” Just as Lincoln suspended this right to protect the American people President Bush did the exact same thing. These decisions may not have been well liked but at the end of the day it helped save American lives. Assassinating Awlaki may have been much more drastic than detaining him without a trial but it was absolutely necessary. Firstly, the United States could not detain him because we couldn’t find him. Second, we live in a world where technology is so advanced that thousands of people can be killed in a blink of an eye. Awlaki had a tremendous amount of influence and power. He had the ability to obtain nuclear weapons and potentially use them against the United States. In order to protect the American public the United States government decided that the best option was to take away Awlaki’s power completely, therefore assassinating him. This man posed a serious threat to the American people and killing him was therefore the best way to protect the public.

  2. zamateau Says:

    I found this post to extremely relevant to the material covered in class discussions. As Dkap7 referenced, Socrates’ take on the forms of justice are very relevent to the government’s murder of Anwar Al-Awlaki. This brings complexity to this topic because America took the route of substantive justice where no trial was held, but instead action was taken by the US government because the safety of the public was in jeopardy. America’s choice to kill Al-Awlaki served as a hypocritical gesture considering that most of the judicial processes in America take the form of procedural justice. However, I think that the actions taken by the US government were completely warranted as Al-Awlaki presented danger to the well being of the American people. There was confirmed intelligence that Al-Awlaki had been the source of numerous terrorist attacks and could be the source of more to come in the future. Thus, while the decision of the US illustrated a hypocritical gesture, it was pivotal in protecting the American people.

    This case can also be connected to Mill’s argument on the freedom’s that are afforded to all people. Mill proclaims that all Americans are inherently granted freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. In America, all American’s are promised the right to a trial, but Al-Awlaki, who has American citizenship, was not given a trial, but instead the US government killed him before he had a chance to plea his case in a court. However, with this case, I feel that America did the right thing because it was important in ensuring all of Americans safety.

  3. samhock15 Says:

    Al-Awlaki may have been born a U.S. citizen, but he had been living outside of US jurisdiction for quite some time, bringing about the point should people with American citizenship that want nothing to do with America and do not live in the country deserve to hold all the rights that citizens living in the United States are promised? Citizens that are not born in the United States still have the chance of gaining US citizenship if they move to this country and prove that they embody all what America stands for. Therefore, I feel that the assassination of this terrorist, who has been wanted for several years, may go against the constitution, but is not really a crime. However, it does give an example of a politician dirtying his own hands to help protect American Democracy and the safety of the American patrons. Even though Obama performed an immoral action in order to benefit the United States as a whole, I am sure that a lot of Americans were not opposed to the killing of this American born terrorist. Americans, for the most part, did not see this assassination as a wrongdoing after all the terrible and iniquitous actions that Al-Awlaki has performed towards America.

    I do not see America’s actions as an act of hypocrisy because of the use of Dirty Hands. Although the constitution states that all American Citizens have the right to a trial in court, this should not be withheld if the safety of all Americans is in jeopardy because one American seeks terror attacks upon the country in which he was born. Therefore, these actions are not an act of hypocrisy, but instead a selfless act that needed to be done in order to help America as a whole instead of one individual, who even if given a trial would have been sentenced to murder.

  4. dmilla Says:

    I agree with dkap7 that this particular situation pertains directly to Socrates view on justice. He brings about the two forms that Socrates discusses which are substantive and procedural. The substantive form of justice appeals to this blog post because the assassination of this terrorist and US threat serves as a form of truth. Although this can be disputed, I believe that by protecting the safety of a whole people as opposed to the rights of one individual, who no matter what would have been sentenced to death pertains to the “truth” aspect of the substantive process of justice. However, the US relies on procedural justice, stated in the above post, and it can be argued that Obama and his associates sought through all the possibilities in this case and fell upon the fact that assassinating Al-Awlaki is the only way to actually guarantee that this threat to the US would no longer be a threat.

    This does taint the image of President Obama, and therefore serves as a situation involving dirty hands because he is doing it to help out the wellbeing of the rest of the American society. When looking at whether or not Obama acts out hypocritically, I believe that in times when dirty hands is necessary, like in this situation, hypocrisy is no longer relevant because all morals go out the door including what the constitution and US stands for. Therefore, Obama did not perform an act of hypocrisy even if he does go against the constitution.

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