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Saturday, September 30, 2023


Killing of Al-Awlaki ushers in new era

With the announcement last week that the federal government assassinated suspected al-Qaida member Anwar Al-Awlaki by way of a US predator drone, politicians on both sides of the aisle furiously nodded their approval. President Barack Obama called the killing a “success” and vowed to “remain vigilant against any threats to the United States.”

Texas Governor Rick Perry took time out at a campaign stop to congratulate the President “for getting another key terrorist.” And Scott Rassmussen joined Matt Patrick on KTRH Friday morning to discuss how much Obama’s poll numbers may rise as a result of the killing.

The whole debacle indicates that we have reached a whole new era in American History: Al-Awlaki, an American citizen born in New Mexico, was assassinated at the direct discretion of our chief executive, and few have done so much as bat an eye.

The alleged terrorist certainly had numerous allegations against him. He was accused of being a regional commander of al-Qaida in Yemen, being a spiritual advisor to two of the 9/11 hijackers, giving direct instructions to the underwear bomber of 2010 and corresponding with Major Nidal Hassan prior to his Fort Hood attack.

Whether or not he is guilty of these and other crimes I do not pretend to know, and certainly the evidence against him did not look good. But appearing to be incontrovertibly guilty does not provide the government the right to order your assassination without trial. Despite being on the CIA’s hit list, Al-Awlaki was never formally charged or indicted with a crime in the United States, much less given his constitutional right to due process of law.

It would be a gross understatement to note that the killing of Al-Awlaki is a stunning and dangerous precedent. Being deemed a terrorist in this country has now elevated even American citizens to a new class of criminal, one that can be targeted for assassination by the CIA’s shadowy secret operations with the simple approval of the President.

Once it becomes accepted that any American citizen can be killed at any time, so long as they are a threat to national security, the only thing left to do is determine who is a threat. You then have a recipe for offing your own citizens that rivals that of any tyrannical dictator of recent memory.

In Milton Mayer’s book, “They Thought They Were Free,” the author recounts his colleague’s explanation of what happened in Nazi Germany: “If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked … But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next … It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago.”

We have now reached a stage in which we are no longer sufficiently shocked that an American president ordered the killing of one of his citizens without even so much as charging him with a crime. We have even accepted it with outspoken approval. Perhaps we should stop and ponder the great maxim” that Mayer cites in his book: finem respice, or consider the end.

A government that can assassinate its own citizens is one that knows no limits to its power.

Steven Christopher is an economics alumnus and graduate finance student in the C.T. Bauer College of Business and may be reached at [email protected].

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