Friday, September 30, 2011

The Implications of Anwar al-Awlaqi's Death

On paper, I agree that terrorists deserve to die. My reasoning is simple: those who are not afraid to take the lives of others deserve to be deprived of theirs. Although as a Christian I believe in compassion and forgiveness of the sins of others, this is one of those rare exceptions. In a similar vein to serial killers/rapists -- defined as those who commit the same heinous crimes over and over again-- one's number of chances to change is limited. Can you imagine what would have happened if the in the biblical story of the prodigal son, the younger son left his father again? I shudder to think that the father would have shown the son the same love and are as before.

But the death of Anwar al-Awlaqi, the Al-Qaeda terrorist suspected of organizing activities targeting American soldiers and civilians, raises a profound and vital question. Does the U.S. government have the constitutional right to target and kill its own citizens? The central issue, of course is that Anwar al-Awlaqi was born in the United States and therefore is a U.S. citizen. By having him assassinated, President Obama and the CIA essentially have just ended the life of an American citizen on purpose. Had this man not been a terrorist, this mounts to blatant murder. But, the problem isn't so black and white as Anwar al-Awlaqi is a terrorist.

Based on the comments I have read from the Yahoo article, it appears the overwhelming majority of commenters support the action of President Obama and the CIA. They say things like "terrorists only have one right: the right to die" and express gladness at al-Awlaqi's death. I agree with this sentiment on the grounds that, despite being an U.S. citizen, the man effectively convicted treason when he took up al-Qaeda's cause in terrorizing the United States. In the olden days, the punishment for treason is...death, since treason is regarded as the most egregious sin one can commit against his/her country. But let's stop for a moment and think about the consequences of this. In other words, what's next?

What worries me is that this marks the beginning of something terrible: the erosion of our rights as citizens of this country we call the U.S. of A. Not that this hasn't started since 2001 -- the Patriot Act and espionage scandals that followed-- but for the first time, the government has targeted and killed one of its governed. This time the killing is justified as al-Awlaqi is clearly a terrorist and therefore not subject to the protections offered by the Constitution. Yet what would stop the government eventually to label other "classes" of citizens and also designate them to die. The line has been crossed and the boundary has been blurred.

An analogy that comes to mind is the message of the movie V for Vendetta. In that film, the British government essentially creates a disease that frightens the population into voting for an absolute dictatorship. It is an extreme comparison, but I think we should be careful and not overlook the significance of what has happened. There may be frightening consequences.

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