I have no love for al… -Qaida. I knew two people killed on 9/11, and my brother was in Tower 7 when he saw the planes fly into the towers. By connection to friends and family, I know many more people who lost loved ones and whose children and families continue to suffer 10 years later.
I certainly understand wanting revenge and retribution. I brought a teen to the United States for eye surgery. A South Sudanese boy, he was taken as war booty into the Arab North. His slave master hanged him upside down and blinded him. After a cornea transplant, he is slowly regaining his slight in one eye. His other eye, as they say in South Sudan, is “finished.” His mother is still held in the North in slavery. Personally, I do not want his torturer to occupy space on the planet, but the rule of law is something for which I have extreme respect. The law must be followed, and he deserves a trial like anyone else – even though my anger toward this boy’s torturer is extreme.
I have also traveled around the world and have had cab drivers tell me, in English-speaking countries as well as in countries where Arabic is the dominate language, that “the Jews and George Bush” designed 9/11 for their own purposes. You can argue till you are blue in the face, and you can’t change their mindset.
But as I was walking from my tent to a donor’s basketball court in South Sudan on Friday, I called my office. “News?” I asked. “Yes,” replied one of our reporters, “They got Awlaki with a drone.” The man next to me, a conservative, rejoiced. I was in shock.
My conservative traveling partner and I began to spar immediately.
“He is evil, and now he is dead,” he said.
I replied, “last time I looked, he was an American citizen. I thought we had a rule of law, a Constitution.”
“Yes,” said my friend, “but he inspired others to kill.”
Wow, I thought, al-Qaida has gotten us to do something that we never dreamed of when I was taught in our wonderful public-education system. It has pushed us to the edge of breaking the law, the Constitution. American citizens, I thought, were innocent until proven guilty. Americans had a right to be tried in a court of law.
I do not believe for a nanosecond that we needed to send a CIA drone over to Yemen to kill this man. We have provided rendition flights to places we do not normally do business with, such as Syria, so our suspects could be tortured and our hands would be clean. We went in the dead of night and took Osama bin Laden out and managed to not kill the women and children in the compound. Now, the CIA and our government would like its citizens to believe that they could not have captured Anwar al-Awlaki and brought him to justice in the United States? I find that impossible to believe.
In politics, such actions are called a slippery slope. If we can send drones over to a country that we are not officially at war with and take out an American citizen that did not even have a proper indictment, then what can be done to any American citizen?
My brother and I must have been along the same lines of thinking, because when I got to a place where I could access the Internet, I saw that he had written an article for the Guardian. The Center for Constitutional Rights, of which he is president, has filed a lawsuit to prevent these drone killings. Some may say my brother is too radical, but the Financial Times quotes a more “mainstream” law professor from the University of Notre Dame, May Ellen O’Connell. She said, “Under International Law the killing of Awlaki though military force is clearly unlawful. … The United States in not a war in Yemen. This was the killing of a criminal suspect with no attempt to arrest.”
The America I love, the America of which I am a citizen, is a better country than the one that sends drones to kill citizens without trial. The America I love is governed by the rule of law. The America I love did not follow its own ideals and beliefs in the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. This drone killing is not our finest moment. If we let the bad guys take us away from our cherished and time-honored laws, we have given up a piece of our country to them – even if they are dead.