Readers of this blog probably know that I’ve a philosophical qualm with the notion that the state has the authority to take a citizen’s life. Capital punishment is not a deterrent; the people who commit capital crimes do so under the assumption that they will not be caught and sentenced to death. Individuals who plead guilty often do so under a negotiated plea that guarantees they will not face the death penalty, while many others go to meet their Maker with their throats hoarse from proclaiming their innocence.
Killing a citizen who has actively taken up arms against his or her nation, however, is an altogether different situation.
Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder laid out his case for permitting drone attacks overseas that have targeted and killed at least three U.S. citizens in recent months. These strikes did not target Americans traveling down a highway in Nebraska, but Americans who were actively engaged in hostile activity against their nation on foreign soil among operatives who also have designs against America.
As a citizen, taking up arms against the United States is an act of treason. And treason is a crime punishable by death. Period.
This idea stirs fears of an Orwellian universe, where gallows are constructed in public squares for the exhibited execution of private citizens who were deemed hostile—either through their actions or words—to the motivations and machinations of government. That the government would kill a citizen without “due course,” as guaranteed by the Constitution, in an abomination to the mind of my beloved American Civil Liberties Union. And, truly, I understand their concerns. But on this, I disagree.
In many states, domestic violence is treated not simply as a crime against an individual, but as a crime against the state. That removes the burden for law enforcement officers to rely on a victim to press charges in instances of domestic abuse. Rather, the officer is compelled to arrest the aggressor because the state considers itself the victim.
Treason is much the same. The state—in this instance, the United States—is the victim, and as such, so am I. Engaging in armed insurgency against the federal government is sort of a big no-no. Some folks tried it once, and it didn’t end well. And so long as the government is acting within the constraints of the Constitution, you’ve no right to violently oppose it.
(That said, should the government recklessly disregard the Constitution, I will be among assuredly vocal and passionate majority who would protest and rage to protect the document—and the rights to which that document entitle me—that my ancestors also swore and fought to defend. However, Ron Paul is still a quack.)
If you take up arms against the government, even as a citizen, you are an enemy of the state. And the state, just as I, has the right to defend itself. If that means using an anonymous drone to blow you to kingdom-come, so be it, jackass.
In Holder’s view, killing a citizen abroad is within the rights of the government if that citizen poses “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States” and that arrest of the citizen “is not feasible.”
“We are at war with a stateless enemy, prone to shifting operations from country to country,” Holder told an audience at the Northwestern University School of Law.
The ACLU argues that it is illegal for the federal government to kill a citizen on a battlefield with no effort made to arrest or indict him or her. I see what they’re getting at. But if I’m in a foxhole and the fellow next to me suddenly decides he’s going to start fighting for the Nazis, I’m not going to Mirandize the son of a bitch; I’m putting a bullet in his brain.
Suffering acts of treason domestically leads to violent acts, such as the destruction of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Suffering acts of treason abroad leads to violent acts, such as the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A citizen who would engage in an effort to undermine the security and welfare of his or her nation does not deserve the blessings of liberty and protection to which citizenship entitles them.
Commit treason, and you will hang.
I am grateful that Anwar al-Awlaqi is dead, and that my government is willing to use such means to protect itself and, by extension, me.