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On Drones and Due Process


In 2011, one of the greatest blows against the sanctity of human life and the rule of law was struck. On September 30th, the Obama administration authorized the assassination of the American-born Al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki. The drone strike in Yemen which killed Awlaki also killed Samir Khan, another U.S. citizen who had been an editor for the Al-Qaeda magazine Inspire. Two weeks later, Anwar al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son was killed in a drone strike meant to target another militant. Despite the fact that the Fifth Amendment protects "persons," not just citizens, proponents of torture always pointed out that these practices were being performed on non-citizens. However, the Obama administration's new step in authorizing the targeted killing of citizens without due process shows how far the erosion of the rule of law that started with Bush has taken us.

Obama merely had to go to a panel that he self-appointed to decide the legality of this action, thus making the old accusations of "death panels" more real. A foundational issue for the consistent life ethic as well as the general rule of law is what boundaries should keep a government from killing its own citizens. I have no doubt that al-Awlaki was a terrorist, but he should have been dealt with arrest and due process. Yes, such a process is clumsy, but it is not as dangerous as a government with the authority to kill its own citizens. The Obama administration has broken its promise to uphold constitutional liberties in this move and it sets up a dangerous precedent that many of his would-be successors would love to continue.

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