I must admit that I am somewhat shocked by some of the reactions to the death of Anwar al-Awlaki. Those reactions that are based on the argument that as a citizen of the United States he was entitled to be judged by a jury of his peers before he was issued a death sentence. Those, some would argue, are the “rules.” That thought pattern chooses, either knowingly or through ignorance, to omit an important element in the discussion over the “legality” of al-Awlaki’s death. That element is that he willingly entered into a game that is singularly marked by its lack of rules. When one examines terrorism and the corresponding war on terrorism, one should immediately take note of the fact that the glaring identifier of both is their lack of rules.
Do those who decry al-Awlaki’s death as the illegal act of President in denial of the United States Constitution accept the fact that by his actions al-Awlaki not only denied that document, but sought to end its existence as the formulaic document of a sovereign nation? Al-Awlaki chose to live his life in the out lands of civilization. A place where law exists only in the form of power and blind allegiance. His death is not to be bemoaned but his very existence in the world of terrorism is. We in the United States carry a heavy share of guilt in the creation of that world.
9/11 was indeed chickens coming home to roost. The people who were slaughtered on that day were the victims not only of the madmen who piloted the plains, but in a much more intense way also the victims of a country whose imperialistic policies created a tear in the fabric of humanity…a tear through which terrorism was able to easily slip. We can deny it all we want, but America’s foreign policy of occupation and assimilation finally produced a fatal reaction. The enemies of “American Exceptionalism,” that egocentric bit of jingoistic fluff that we, as a nation, seemed intensely proud of, finally had enough of forced nation building and having America’s vision of freedom shoved down their throats. They were also tired of the hypocrisy of the world’s most powerful Christian nation slaughtering people in the name of Christ. They struck back and people leaped to their deaths from the dizzying heights of the World Trade Towers.
Into the maelstrom of strike and counter strike strode Anwar al-Awlaki. The world of terror, whether it be the 9/11 attack or Shock and Awe, was a world he willingly entered. He knew that once he entered that world there would be no portal back, he was in a world wide kill zone. He sought to kill at random and accepted the fact that he himself could be killed at random. Such is the world of terrorism. If you want to strike terror into the citizenry of your enemy you don’t kill one of their military officials, people expect military men to be in harms way, you kill one of their public school teachers. You don’t kill a Senator, you kill a bank clerk. That’s what strikes terror into the hearts of the public. The attack on Pearl Harbor produced mass anger, the attack on the World Trade Towers produced mass terror.
Anwar al-Awlaki died a death he fully expected. He understood the conditions of no rules as they apply to terrorism. To state that his death is somehow a breach of the Constitution is to state that he accepted that document as a valid source of governmental power. He didn’t. What would be the alternative for people who live beyond the domain of our domestic laws? Did the opponents of his assassination desire a warrant be issued for his arrest? Did they expect him to return to the United States to stand trial?
Understand this, his death is no more legal or illegal than the attack on 9/11 or Shock and Awe. They are all useable weapons in the arsenal of terror. The heinous act here is not the drone attack that vaporized al-Awlaki, it’s the acceptance of terrorism as a means of settling disputes. There are no more classical “wars,” there are only acts of terrorism…some small, some large. Having Cruise Missiles rain down on a population of innocent men, women and children is terrorism. Having Predator Drones hunt down suspected targets and blowing them up along with anyone else in the kill zone is terrorism. Flying planes in into a public building is terrorism. Attempting to ignite explosives on a passenger airplane is terrorism. If you are a participant in the lawless pursuit of terrorism they you are protected by no law of man. That, perhaps, is the most frightening part of this discussion. By our election of officials who engage in terrorism we bear a frightening burden. We are, in fact, supporting terror and therefore are terrorists ourselves. In our quest to broaden our empire we have resorted to terrorist tactics and negated our right to claim outrage at acts of terror committed against us. We know the game, there are no rules, we simply pretend to not be taking part. As long as others do the water boarding, as long as other stand guard at Guantanamo, as long as others fire the Cruise missiles we claim a moral high ground. We are engaging in self delusional politics. We are fair game, as was Anway al-Awlaki. It has come to this…there are no more innocents. We are all in the crosshairs.