By Newt Gingrich
The ACLU is aghast. Liberal bloggers are proclaiming the end of the Bill of Rights. Even some on the right have joined in the hand-wringing.
The source of their angst? News last Friday that one of Al Qaeda's most senior leaders, Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed in a U.S. drone attack on his convoy in the Yemeni desert.
Awlaki was, as the President described him, "the leader of external operations for Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula." Planning new ways to kill masses of American civilians was part of his job description, and by all indications he embraced the task eagerly. Awlaki was a senior recruiter of suicide bombers, and was linked to terror plots dating back to 9/11, when he apparently served as a "spiritual advisor" to several of the hijackers. He advised Nadal Malik Hasan, who is charged as the Fort Hood Shooter. He helped train Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the stymied Christmas Day underwear bomber. And he inspired the Times Square car bomber, too. The guy was our enemy.
But since the administration successfully tracked and eliminated one of the world's most dangerous terrorists, the ACLU and others are criticizing the President because Awlaki remained--in the most technical sense, if in no other--an American citizen. They claim the administration denied Awlaki "due process of law" by not trying him in an American court.
Never mind the fact that such a trial was not an option, with Awlaki roaming free in Yemen, helping to sow chaos there and spreading terror in the U.S. and Europe. (As Andrew McCarthy recently pointed out, "the authorization to assassinate Awlaki did not mean the administration would have him killed if it encountered him coming off a plane in Chicago.") Apparently having heard little about Yemen these days, the ACLU asserts that he was "far from any battlefield" there, and says he was "executed without judicial process."
On this issue, the president's critics are dangerously mistaken. Planning and directing terror plots to kill American civilians en masse is not a crime, to be handled through the judicial system; it is an act of war against the United States. Anyone engaged in war against the United States, whether an American citizen or not, is subject to the use of force by the U.S. As John Yoo put it this week, "American citizens who join the enemy do not enjoy a roving legal force-field that immunizes them from military reprisal."
President Obama was entirely within his rights to take action against a top-ranking member of a group that has declared war on the U.S., and who was actively seeking to launch new attacks against this country. Congress gave the president that authority explicitly in 2001, when it granted him permission to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to prevent acts of terrorism. It is, moreover, established Constitutional law that Americans engaged in war against the United States are owed no due process rights, just as Americans caught working on behalf of the Nazis were not during World War II.
President Obama's legal advisors unanimously agreed.
In addition to eliminating an important figure in the Al Qaeda leadership, Awlaki's killing might be good news in one other regard. I hope it represents a concession by the Obama administration that the view the Left has championed for years--that terrorism is just a "law enforcement" issue--is fundamentally wrong.
This is a war. Now at least one of the administration's legal opinions admits that fact.
In the documentary America at Risk: The War With No Name, I discussed the refusal of the Left to speak honestly about the enemy we are at war with. Our number one example in that movie was Major Hasan, the Fort Hood Shooter inspired by Alwaki. The section on Alwaki below shows exactly why we must consider this a war:
The ACLU and others accusing the President are in complete denial about the nature of the threat we face. American citizenship cannot be used as protection with which to wage war against America.
President Obama can wear this charge, at least, as a real "badge of honor."