Extrajudicial Executions are Executions Too
In so many of my recent posts, I’ve written about my long-standing concern about the excitement that Americans feel about our use of the death penalty. The most obvious example, of course, was the GOP debate audience cheering at the mention of the hundreds of executions presided over by Rick Perry in Texas. With the news today of the death of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, there’s another round of triumphalism at the reach of the mighty arm of the United States, but this time it’s not only from supporters of executions.
I’ve been encouraged by the number of people who have taken note of the problem of the death penalty in the past few weeks and who have begun to ask whether or not the government ought to be in the business of killings its own citizens. Perhaps, for the first time, the fact that a presidential candidate has an unshakable faith in the death penalty’s infallibility will prove a detriment rather than a virtue, in no small part due to the many questions that people raised (and continue to raise) regarding Troy Davis’ and Cameron Todd Willingham’s guilt. The trials of these men, so many have now claimed, were tainted by bad evidence.
But if you thought there was a problem with the evidence presented in those trials, you’re really going to have a problem with the evidence presented in the trial against al-Awlaki, who was assassinated in Yemen today … because there was no trial. While there might be a great deal of evidence against Awlaki, none of it was presented in a court of law and, with his death, there’s no reason to believe that it ever will be. While Americans cherish the idea of having our day in court, it seems that we’re pretty quick to dismiss that right when it comes to a group of people who aren’t like us and who don’t like us.
The real trouble, though, is that a lot of liberals will now say that there is a categorical difference between the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki and the executions I oppose. They’ll make the case that Awlaki was killed as part of America’s ongoing war against its terrorist enemies and that, because he was declared some sort of enemy combatant, this targeted killing is a legitimate use of the power of the state.
But make no mistake: this is an extrajudicial execution of an American citizen and, regardless of how we feel about Awlaki, we ought to be deeply distressed by it. If we’re not, then we’re simply allowing ourselves to be fooled by the rhetoric of our government.
Ultimately, this is what the declaration of a war on terrorism has wrought; this is why words matter.
because there was no trial
To participate in this kind of extrajudicial killing seems to me, to admit defeat.