Tuesday, January 26, 2010

News Talk Online January 26, 2010: Should American Al Qaeda Leaders Be Targeted?

By GARY BAUMGARTEN
Paltalk News Network


A story by ABC News raises some very interesting ethical questions regarding the war on terrorists.

According to the story, the U.S. military had Anwar al Awlaki, believed to be a part of the al Qaeda leadership in Yemen that has planned attacks against the United States within its sights - literally - and had several opportunities to take him out. But the trigger was never pulled. Never pulled - because al Awlaki - is a U.S. citizen.

There are some, to be sure, who will argue that an American who turncoats against the United States - becomes an enemy of the state - is a fair target. But there are others who will argue that no American should be subjected to extrajudicial execution at the hands of the government. That as a U.S. citizen, al Awlaki deserves due process.

There are probably some who will say - why make an exception with American citizens? Don't the other suspected terrorists who have been - and who will be targeted deserving of judicial review?

These are interesting ethical and perhaps legal questions. The dilemma, of course, is that this is both an undeclared war and an undefined enemy who is asymmetrically attacking. Do we treat those who we believe to be the enemies as common criminals? Or do we treat them as military combatants - even though they wear no uniform and likely swear allegiance to no country.

Today, on Capitol Hill, during a Senate committee hearing on terrorism - this very question was raised. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wanted to know who decided to read the Miranda rights to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab - charged in the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on final approach to Detroit Metro Airport.

McCain says that it's his understanding that Abdulmutallab was spilling the beans about his al Qaeda handlers until he was read his rights and a lawyer stepped in and told him to shut up.

Attempting to blow up an airplane in flight is a crime. Had someone tried this because he was a common criminal upset that the airline had lost his luggage he would have - of course - been read his rights - including the right to remain silent. McCain's question suggests that exceptions should be made when the suspect is a terrorist acting on behalf of al Qaeda.

Perhaps so. But then, how far do you go with this?

There are no easy answers to these questions. Whatever option is taken will result in consequences. Consequences that - one one hand - can mean a loss of personal liberties. And on the other - a terrorist attack against the homeland.

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