12 October 2011 ~ 1 Comentario

The right to kill

By Carlos Alberto Montaner*


(FIRMAS PRESS) President Obama ordered the execution of his fellow countryman Anwar al-Awlaki. The dead man was a ferocious American Muslim fanatic of Arab origin. This affair has been obscured by the euphemisms being used. Presidents and judges –or presidents acting as judges whose rulings cannot be appealed, as in this case – do not kill or assassinate: they execute. In times of war, military men don’t kill, assassinate or even execute their adversaries: they eliminate them.

Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican candidate for the presidency (R-Texas), says Obama could be removed from power for “assassinating” al-Awlaki. Why? Because the U.S. Constitution does not give the President of the United States the right to order the execution of a person who has not gone through the courts. The Fifth Amendment is crystal clear: no one may be deprived of life without a prior, fair trial.

Obama presides over a republic and, as everyone knows, this type of state organization is ruled by laws that demand obedience from everyone. The main function of the Constitution is to limit the authority of the presidents; when they go beyond those limits, impeachment can be used to expel them from power.

On the other hand, the President of the United States is the country’s supreme military chief and is expected to defend society in those situations that imperil the national security. If al-Awlaki, a hardened terrorist, threatened the existence of many Americans with the actions he planned or had carried out, didn’t Obama have the duty to execute him, kill him, or whatever the act of taking someone’s life is called?

The problem is that there is a dangerous vacuum in the United States’ legal order. Obama is right when he decides to kill the terrorist. Ron Paul also is right when he opines that the president’s powers are not sufficient to order that act. It is inconceivable, as has been said recently, that President Obama has to request permission from a judge to listen to al-Awlaki’s telephone conversations but doesn’t need it to arrange for a devastating missile to be fired at”  him.

To be fair, it is proper to recall that Obama is not the first U.S. president who has tried to liquidate an enemy of the nation. Kennedy tried to finish off Fidel Castro with the aid of the Mafia, which may have cost him his life, because the other cowboy, who (according to some) was a master in the art of killing, shot faster, in the opinion of President Lyndon Johnson. Reagan attempted to pulverize Qaddafi by means of aerial bombardment; Bush did all he could to terminate Bin Laden.

And surely all American presidents, in one way or another, have found themselves in extreme situations where they’ve had to evaluate actions of that kind and have lived to regret not acting with firmness. Wouldn’t 60 million lives have been saved in Roosevelt’s days if an American sharpshooter had fired a bullet into Adolf Hitler’s forehead before the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939?

In our times, however, all this is extremely dangerous, not only because, as a principle, it’s very alarming for one person to decide on his own whether an enemy of the state should be killed or not, but also because President Obama himself runs risks in the future. What might happen? At the moment he leaves the presidency, a foreign prosecutor might ask for his trial for murder, as happened to Pinochet some years ago, while he visited England unawares.

It is improbable that such a thing might happen, but not impossible. Nowadays, for example, several American military officers who participated in the war in Iraq have been urged not to leave the United States (the same advice has occasionally been given to former President George W. Bush), given that a Spanish prosecutor is intent on having them imprisoned for war crimes. In the era of internationalized justice, nobody is totally safe from an unexpected criminal action.

Probably, the American way to prevent trouble for former presidents is to create, by law, a judicial entity to which the American presidents can submit certain extreme cases that need to be tried and sentenced to death in absentia, shielding the Executive Power from conviction for acting on the margins of the republic’s principles and norms. If the right to kill exists, it should be regulated.


One Response to “The right to kill”

  1. Melkay 17 October 2011 at 12:25 pm Permalink

    El problema con Obama y el caso de Ron Paul es que la administración del presidente se encargó de no presentar ningún tipo de evidencia de que al-Awlaki era una amenaza inminente para vidas estadounidenses. Mira este video del Secretario de Prensa Jay Carney decidido a no contestar preguntas.


    No existen pruebas de que al-Awlaki era algo más que un propagandista dentro de Al-Qaeda. A principios del 2010, el director de inteligencia nacional, Dennis Blair, dijo en una audiencia frente al Congreso que los Estados Unidos estaban preparados para matar americanos afiliados con Al-Qaeda, sin mencionar el nombre del Anwar al-Awlaki

    “If we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that,” lo que quiere decir que la autoridad vendría del ejecutivo, no de las cortes judiciales.
    Blair dijo que las agencias militares y de inteligencia tenían autoridad para matar ciudadanos estadounidenses involucrados en el terrorismo en otros países si sus actividades amenazaban vidas humanas. Dónde están las pruebas contra al-Awlaki? El gobierno se niega a presentarlas. Tampoco las presentaron a ningún juez a puertas cerradas. No había ningún “warrant”. Simplemente mandaron un drone, lanzaron una bomba y ya.

    Si esto no es un mal precedente para futuros gobiernos, y para gobiernos totalitarios en todas partes del mundo, no sé qué es.

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