"Rights Groups Sue U.S. on Effort to Kill Cleric"
A few months ago something extraordinary happened: the U.S. government authorized the execution of an American citizen without putting him on trial. It seems that the government forgot that in the United States of America suspected criminals have Constitutional rights--the right to an attorney, a speedy trial, a jury of peers, habeus corpus, etc. These rights distinguish our justice system (imperfect as it is) from those of tin-horn dictators in Third World countries where justice is a joke and the government does whatever it wants with whomever it deems a criminal. What makes the American justice system different is that in theory the U.S. government cannot suspend these rights, ever. Inalienable rights--even for suspected criminals--are meant to ensure that the government never oversteps its bounds and begins arbitrarily arresting, imprisoning and executing its own citizens. Even if those citizens are accused of terrorism.
Which is why I am so disturbed by the U.S. government's recent authorization to execute a suspected terrorist, Anwar al-Maliki. Al-Maliki is U.S. citizen hiding in Yemen. The CIA believes that he is assisting those who are plotting attacks against the United States and so has authorized his assassination. Here is my problem with all of this: the U.S. government does not have the right to call one of its citizens a terrorist and then summarily execute him. Al-Maliki has the Constitutional right to a trial to determine if in fact he is facilitating acts of terrorism. A jury should decide that. If the CIA has sufficient evidence, then al-Maliki should be arrested, tried in a civilian court and, if he is found guilty of a capital offense, then he can be executed. That is the proper way to administer justice to American citizens. This Constitutionally-mandated legal process is the only thing that distinguishes legitimate state-sponsored execution from state-sponsored terrorism.
I realize that Mr. al-Maliki is hiding in Yemen and capturing him may be difficult. That is the reason that the U.S. government is more likely to kill him. But there is no need for that. We have friendly relations with the Yemeni government. Ironically, our government is currently pouring millions of dollars into training the Yemeni police and armed forces. Surely it would not be difficult to arrange al-Maliki's arrest and extradition to the United States.
So, perhaps for the first time in my life, I find myself on the same side of a legal issue as the ACLU (see the attached NYT article). Like them, I want to know the standards the CIA uses to determine whether an American citizen is worthy of assassination without trial. I would also like to know why the U.S. Treasury Department has the authority to classify someone a terrorist(!) and thereby deny him legal representation. Both clearly violate the letter and intent of the Constitution. It seems to me that we, as American citizens, are allowing our government to set a dangerous precedent with the al-Maliki case. What happens if the U.S. government suspects that Americans who study Islam in Yemen (as I nearly did) have terrorist ties and can be assassinated? Or what if the FBI determines that Mormons represent a clear and present danger to the United States? Can their right to trial be revoked? The U.S. government once suspended Japanese-Americans' Constitutional rights during a time of war so this is a threat to ethnic as well as religious groups.
American citizens have the right to a trial in this country for a reason. It prevents the U.S. government from arbitrarily executing its own citizens. This is a right that should not be suspended for anyone, ever.