Can Obama Legally Kill You?


Should the president have the right to kill you? And if so, under what circumstances?

If you are a U.S. citizen living in the United States and plotting the murder of your neighbors — let’s say they mow their lawns very early every Sunday — it is unlikely a predator drone will launch a Hellfire missile through your kitchen window and take you out.

President Barack Obama, who has become a huge fan of drones, simply would not dream of doing such a thing, and U.S. law would stop him if he did.

But if you are a U.S. citizen living overseas and plotting the death of American citizens from, let’s say, Yemen, you can say hello to our little friends, the 100-pound Hellfires.

Anwar al-Awlaki was born in Las Cruces, N.M., in 1971, had dual U.S.-Yemeni citizenship and was a top al-Qaida terrorist. We killed him in Al-Jawf, a province in Yemen, on Friday.

This was apparently the first time a U.S. president targeted a U.S. citizen for death overseas, which has upset any number of people, ranging from liberals to Ron Paul.

To which I say, “Get over it.”

Capturing al-Awlaki would have been difficult to impossible. Which is why we use drones. Being unmanned, they don’t risk U.S. lives, and their accuracy appears to be impressive. Al-Awlaki was killed in the open, due to an act of physical fitness. (Gov. Christie, take note.)

According to reports, al-Awlaki and his companions had finished breakfast and then left their house and were walking to their cars parked 700 yards away.

Seven hundred yards? Do you know any American leaders who would walk the length of seven football fields to get to their cars? In the United States, they would probably take a taxi to their cars if they were that far away.

In any case, the al-Awlaki group was caught in the open by two drones, and the blasts “tore the bodies to pieces.” So much for walking off a meal.

“His death takes a committed terrorist, intent on attacking the United States, off the battlefield,” an administration source said.

Note the reference to “battlefield.” Al-Awlaki was killed in a war in which the battlefield can be anywhere. Al-Awlaki posed an imminent threat to the United States, and our nation has an internationally recognized right to protect itself.

Further, to my way of thinking, targeting a U.S. citizen for death without trial had precedent. About 75,000 U.S. citizens were killed in action by Union soldiers in the Civil War because these “rebels” were in rebellion against the United States. (Abraham Lincoln never recognized rebel forces as citizens of a foreign country because he never recognized the South’s right to secede.)

Al-Awlaki was in rebellion against the United States, actively trying to kill us. Or so says our Justice Department. But we never arrested al-Awlaki, read him his rights, gave him a lawyer or tried him on cable TV.

“Nobody knows if he killed anybody,” said Paul, a Republican presidential candidate. “If the American people accept this blindly and casually … I think that’s sad.”

“Mr. al-Awlaki’s allegedly violent rejection of America was not acceptable in any way,” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. “Neither is it acceptable to trample the Constitution through extrajudicial killings.”

Rachel Maddow was also upset. “Can the United States government choose an American citizen to be executed without ever charging them with anything, without ever proving anything against them, without ever giving them a chance to defend themselves?” she asked on her MSNBC show.

In a word: yes.

Justice Robert Jackson famously wrote as part of a 1949 U.S. Supreme Court decision (in which he was in the minority): “There is danger that, if the court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.”

Barack Obama clearly is opposed to suicide pacts. Since he took office, he has launched 227 drone attacks in Pakistan, alone, killing at least 1,500 combatants. That is five times the number of drone strikes and five times the number of killings that former President George W. Bush racked up in his eight years in office.

Though I do not think Obama’s actions were motivated by politics, there is, inevitably, a political component to everything a president does.

Whatever poll bounce (if any) that Obama gets from the killing of al-Awlaki probably will dissipate quickly, as it did after the killing of Osama bin Laden. But that is not the point.

These strikes build the image of Obama as a leader. He is the guy protecting us. While Obama’s overall approval rating hovers in the low 40s, his approval on managing the threat of terrorism is a healthy 62 percent.

The 2012 election almost certainly will pivot on domestic issues and not on international ones, but every little piece that contributes to a positive image of Obama helps Obama.

Right now, Obama looks strong. Mitt Romney looks stoic. And Rick Perry looks … something.

To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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