Friday morning, Predator drones operated by the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command rendezvoused over Yemen and launched Hellfire missiles that blew to pieces the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
A declared enemy in the war on terror was eliminated.
Yet Awlaki was a U.S. citizen.
Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul denounced the action. Kucinich said President Obama "trampled on the Constitution." Paul said Awlaki had never been convicted. "Nobody knows if he killed anybody." Paul described what was done as "assassinating" an American.
Did we have the right to target and kill Awlaki?
According to U.S. intelligence, Awlaki inspired or incited the Fort Hood massacre and Times Square bomber. Intelligence officials say he played a direct role in the attempt to bring down an airliner over Detroit at Christmas 2009. That would make him an accomplice in attempted mass murder.
Indeed, there is more hard evidence tying Awlaki to acts of terror against the United States than there ever was tying Saddam Hussein to acts of terror against us.
Yet it is also true that Awlaki was never convicted of these crimes. What, then, is the legal case for killing him?
Answer: America is at war with al-Qaida -- a war authorized and funded by Congress. In that war, Awlaki, hiding in a foreign country, has been inspiring and inciting Muslims to massacre U.S. citizens who are noncombatants -- a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. Adds Obama, Awlaki was the "external operations" chief for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
And even if Awlaki were not an operations officer in al-Qaida, only a propagandist, his actions would seem to constitute wartime treason.
When killed, he was traveling with 25-year-old Saudi-born Samir Khan, another American, who edited and wrote Inspire, the English-language magazine of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Khan, who had proclaimed, "I am proud to be a traitor in America," was also killed in the drone attack.
Do we have a right to target enemy propagandists who do not carry out acts of mass murder but encourage or instigate them?
Ezra Pound, the American poet and expatriate who made wartime broadcasts from Mussolini's Italy attacking Jews and FDR, was charged with treason and spent a dozen years in St. Elizabeth's Hospital for the Insane.
Lord Haw-Haw, the American-born William Joyce, who broadcast from Berlin during World War II, was executed by the British, though like Pound, he killed no one. Mildred Gillars, the American-born "Axis Sally," was imprisoned for treason in the United States after World War II.
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