A lot of people are hyper-ventilating about the CIA’s recent killing of a couple of prime ragheads, Al-Awlaki and his pal Samir Khan. Both were US citizens when they died from a direct hit by a Hellfire missile. Both spent a major part of their adult lives in the Al Qaida leadership planning and successfully goading other radical Muslims to murder innocent Americans. President Obama took justifiable pride in terminating these two killers.
Al-Awlaki and Khan were long-time self-declared and confirmed enemies of western civilization, and everything we stand for. They made war on us, and thus were enemy combatants active in a region rife with people like themselves. Why these traitors were still US citizens is a question we can deal with another time. But can the government actively pursue and kill people like these without violating some yet to be defined moral principles? I would argue a definite yes.
The government daily pursues and purposely kills US citizens for cause and by mistake. And these dead are pikers when compared with the likes of Al-Awlaki. There is no moral outcry when a SWAT team breaks into the wrong civilian home and mows down its resident(s) – they got the wrong address, next case please. We have no problem incinerating people by the dozens in places like Waco. There is no special due process brought to bear for a police sniper to kill a pregnant woman whom he sees through a curtained window of a mountain cabin in Montana. And these kinds of killings – on purpose, accidental, in error, you name it – go on constantly. We do give a nod to the relatives, and say we’re sorry when “mistakes were made”.
But now to agonize over the morality of finally killing this Al Qaida sumbich, after publicly hunting him for the last several years, seems a little beyond ludicrous – ‘Oh crap, we finally hit what we’ve been shooting at; did we now do a bad thing?' If it was wrong and immoral, why wasn’t the hunt for him called off when it was first launched and announced in all the media? Wasn’t the hunt itself and the several missed attempts to nail him then already immoral? Or is this anguish a part some other agenda that deserves our attention?
[3oct2011 update] Berkeley law professor John Yoo writes in today’s WSJ that “American citizens have never been considered immune from lethal force when they take up arms against their country.” In his piece ‘From Gettysburg to Anwar Al-Awlaki’ he takes a broader historical look at how our government has used lethal force against its citizens.