Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, was assassinated by the Obama Administration in Yemen on 30 September 2011. Mr. al-Awlaki was suspected of inciting terrorism but had never been put on trial or convicted of a crime. He was innocent until proven guilty. The U.S. government's willingness to assassinate one of its own citizens is indefensible. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees every accused criminal the right to due process of law. The Fifth Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights—inalienable rights, not privileges or legal niceties—due to every citizen of this country, regardless of what crimes he or she supposedly committed. Due process includes the right to a fair trial; it is also your right not to incriminate yourself under oath. We hold those rights so sacred that police officers are required by law to remind you of them before they arrest you. How ironic, then, that in this case the Fifth Amendment was violated so casually by the U.S. government, and without public protest. The Obama Administration has apparently determined that it can dispense with a citizen’s right to due process if he’s supposedly a bad man. It has made itself judge, jury, and executioner. What the government seems to have forgotten is that neither the President, nor anyone else, can determine which Constitutional rights citizens enjoy or which must be honored. The President is duty-bound to uphold them all. In the United States, citizens do not live at the mercy of their government; we are the government.
So why aren’t your elected representatives fuming about the Executive Branch’s violation of Mr. al-Awlaki’s (and, by extension, your) right to due process? Or why isn’t Congress moving to censure the Obama Administration for overreaching its Constitutionally limited powers? Probably because you and I don’t elect them to care about such things and won’t hold them responsible for not pursuing it. Why doesn’t the Supreme Court hold the Obama Administration accountable for violating Mr. al-Awlaki’s Fifth Amendment rights? No one has brought the case to them. Where are the conservatives on the Right who claim to love and uphold the Constitution? Their silence belies their rhetoric. And where are the defenders of civil liberties on the Left who claim to speak truth to power? Their silence also belies their rhetoric. Why isn’t there public outrage over the assassination of Mr. al-Awlaki? Perhaps because he was a Muslim with an Arabic name? American law does not discriminate on the basis of religion or ethnic heritage. Are we unmoved because Mr. al-Awlaki was a suspected terrorist? In the United States, you are innocent until proven guilty and even criminals have Constitutional rights. Is it because he was assassinated in faraway Yemen? It is not acceptable for the U.S. government to deny one of its citizens due process on American soil or anywhere else. More shockingly, maybe you and I are unfazed by the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki because we didn’t even know that it happened. Ignorance is a scary prospect because the government can easily misinterpret silence as tacit permission. An even more frightening prospect is that if no one holds the U.S. government accountable for violating Mr. al-Awlaki’s Constitutional rights, no one is likely to hold the U.S. government accountable when it violates yours.
I still believe that in the United States of America you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law by a jury of your peers. Apparently, in the case of Mr. al-Awlaki, the Obama Administration does not. Do you?