Why the U.S. drone attack on U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki gave him all the process he was due

President Obama can be credited with another advance in the U.S. war on Al Qaeda with the elimination by drone attack in Yemen of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki. Though born and educated in the U.S., Al-Awlaki enlisted in the Al Qaeda terrorist organization and, through books, speeches, and the internet incited, and assisted, terrorists of various nationalities to attack the United States and its citizens. He was 40 years old at his death.

Killed with Al-Awlaki in the drone attack was another U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, age 25, who had immigrated to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia with his family when he was 7, but who followed Al-Awlaki into Al Qaeda and edited its English language magazine and website promoting the mass murder of Americans.

Some are questioning whether the targeted killing of one U.S. citizen, with another U.S. citizen as collateral damage, somehow violates the declaration in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that, “No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property…without due process of law.” Here are three reasons why it does not:

First, President Obama’s authorization for the drone attack on Al-Awlaki was itself due process under the September 18, 2001, joint congressional resolution on the use of military force. This joint resolution authorized the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force” against any organization “he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001….in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States” by such organization. Al Qaeda is the primary such organization.

Second, even without the due process afforded by the joint congressional resolution, the doctrine of self-defense is universally recognized, including under U.S. and international law and Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. As long as Al Qaeda continues its efforts to attack the U.S., the U.S. is entitled to defend itself and its citizens against Al Qaeda.

Third, the targeted killing of Al-Awlaki was directly challenged in U.S. court by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights. A federal judge in December, 2010, rejected that challenge for lack of standing, a plaintiff entitled to challenge the U.S. action.

So there’s been a lot of process leading up to the drone attack on Al-Awlaki, all the process that he was due.

The President is entitled to some political credit for this action, following up on the prior targeted killing of Osama bin Laden. Barack Obama is not exactly “palling around with terrorists” as Republican Sarah Palin once charged. He’s killing them.

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