Where is nation’s outrage?

March 15, 2012


“Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” — from the 14th Amendment

Spin it any way you want. Justify it, rationalize it, chalk it up to the exigencies of war. And at the end, the fact remains:

A United States citizen is dead, and the United States government killed him. Without trial. Without due process. Without hesitation. And many of those who loudly deplored George W. Bush for smaller excesses seem content to allow Barack Obama this larger one.

No, I do not mourn the death of Anwar al-Awlaki. If anyone ever deserved to have a missile from a predator drone land in his lap, it was this New Mexico-born Muslim cleric, killed last September in Yemen, his ancestral homeland. American counterterrorism experts say he planned the failed 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner. Additionally, he is said to have inspired the Ford Hood massacre of 2009 and the botched Times Square bombing of 2010. The world is a better place without this guy in it.

Still, the means of his dispatch from this world ought to give us pause. 

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech in which he attempted to justify what the administration did. His reasoning was not compelling. In Holder’s formulation, the U.S. government has the right to kill citizens if said citizens present an imminent threat of violent attack and if capturing them alive is not a feasible option. It can do this, said Holder, speaking at Northwestern University’s school of law, without judicial oversight.

“Some have argued that the president is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaida or associated forces,’’ he said. “This is simply not accurate. ‘Due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.’’

What a flimsy rationale upon which to balance a decision as monumental and portentous as the killing of a citizen. Even granting that the demands of armed conflict sometimes make such things necessary, it is inconceivable that the White House would claim the right to kill without at least presenting its evidence before a federal judge in a secret hearing. To eschew even that safeguard — there is precedent, in urgent cases, for a ruling to be handed down in hours or even minutes — is to set Obama up as potential judge, jury and executioner of every accused terrorist.

So where is the outrage? Had Bush claimed the right to kill American citizens without judicial oversight, the resulting cries of protest would have been audible on the moon. Indeed, one of the protesters would likely have been Obama himself; he came into office on a promise to rein in the excesses of the Bush years, most infamously, the torture of so-called enemy combatants.

Now, Team Obama seeks to justify an excess Team Bush never did. Bush often said his job was to keep the American people safe. Not to diminish or demean that necessary goal, but it is worth noting that his oath of office actually says nothing of the kind. Rather, it requires him to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

It is difficult to see where torture — much less, unilateral killing — is consonant with that promise. And the people who decried Bush’s excesses should also decry Obama’s. Instead, he enjoys a measure of leeway and trust that Bush, whose overreach was much more habitual, never did. That forbearance is misplaced.

The leaders change, but the country is the country is the country — and the principle at stake here is bigger than any one person’s term in office. So no, Barack Obama does not deserve the leeway and trust our lack of outrage accords him.

No president does.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.


Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 2 months ago

An American citizen has to personally commit a few murders, and after that it's all right to dispatch him or her without a trial.

The legal precedent for that was very clearly set forth on May 23, 1934, when Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were shot to death in an ambush.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 2 months ago

/sarcasm, for those who didn't "get it".

Paul Wilson 6 years, 2 months ago

So...just because he writes a column that doesn't attack conservatives...it means he's not a racist or a liberal? I don't get it. But what I do like is the way you used liberal and racist in the same sentence together as similar vile words.
Pitts is a liberal and like many liberals who race bait...he is a racist. But yet again...he's misguided. Just like the common liberal.

esteshawk 6 years, 2 months ago

Without liberals, you would still be answering to England and kids would be working in factories.

esteshawk 6 years, 2 months ago

Without liberals, you would still be answering to England and kids would be working in factories.

esteshawk 6 years, 2 months ago

Without liberals, you would still be answering to England and kids would be working in factories.

skinny 6 years, 2 months ago

I am with the government on this one. If you can't get at the guy to arrest him and he is continuing to kill people, take him out!

cato_the_elder 6 years, 2 months ago

This column demonstrates once more the extent to which Pitts and his ilk don't understand that we are at war. Taking out al-Awlaki was one of the very few positive actions that Obama has taken in his three-plus years of on-the-job training. Al-Awlaki was every bit as dangerous to this country as bin Laden was.

Once in a blue moon Pitts writes a column that criticizes Obama so that he won't be fired for his continual lock-step flag waving for him. All Pitts has really done is prove once more that he's to the left of Obama himself, which is no mean feat.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 2 months ago

We are at war.

Al-Awlaki was an enemy combatant.

We took him out.

Pitts doesn't like that.

Hopefully, Pitts will never serve in any elected national office.

1southernjayhawk 6 years, 2 months ago

I understood the expaination completely and continue to disagree with Pitts on virtually every issue.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 2 months ago

Just as you've soaked up all of Ron Paul's snake oil. He has much good to say on domestic policy, but as far as foreign policy is concerned he has his head in the sand.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 2 months ago

Don't lecture me on history, pal. You're very lucky you're not speaking German or Japanese right now.

I hope that someday you'll develop the maturity and wisdom to appreciate that.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 2 months ago

I've forgotten more about both than you'll ever know.

If America had subscribed to your warped, isolationist views in 1941, fascism and militarism would have taken over the world. There are times when military conflict is necessary, however unpleasant it is.

I previously said that Mr. Paul has his head in the sand, but on reflection it's evident that you both have your heads somewhere else.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 2 months ago

Referring to the 'Revolutionary War' aka 'The War of Independence' as a 'defensive armed conflict' makes it extremely clear that any claims of knowledge of history expressed such as "When you know as much about history as I do" are pure hubris.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 2 months ago

Was Manifest Destiny an "offensive war?" Do you believe that the American conquest of land west of the original thirteen colonies was "mass murder?" Did it all start as the result of an "offensive war" initiated by English, French, and Spanish explorers and settlers?

Provide a cogent, concise answer, and ensure that you do not write in the margins of your paper.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 2 months ago

No educated person would elect to use "coherency" instead of "coherence."

Having marked your paper accordingly, I would then note that you didn't answer the first question I posed, which would earn you an "F."

cato_the_elder 6 years, 2 months ago

Again, more than you ever will. You're a kid still in school.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 2 months ago

Most of the sycophantic Ron Paul drivel that you post on this forum confirms that you have no mind of your own, as the result of which your lofty opinion of yourself is hardly justified.

You remind me of Obama.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 2 months ago

And you, who apparently blame America for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, have a lot in common with both barns and cattle.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 2 months ago

Read the references to Japanese-American trade relations in your earlier posts, Einstein. I know where that comes from, I've heard it all before, and I know what that means. You blame inexcusable and inhumane Japanese militarism and aggression on American foreign policy.

The brainwashing you've experienced is no different from that inflicted on other young people by the far left. Unfortunately, you've fallen for the ultra-libertarian claptrap as badly as some of your peers have fallen for Karl Marx and Che Guevara.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 2 months ago

All I need to know is that you blame America for World War II, but that's par for the course for ultra-libertarian ostriches.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 2 months ago

Liberty_One, you need to read up on "The War of Independence". Unlike you, I am aware of both sides of the story, that's why I referred to it by what both sides call it.

jaywalker 6 years, 2 months ago

Uh oh. I agree w/ Gandalf. Where are those Yellow Pages....here we go......hardhats.....hay.....hazardous waste.........head trauma! There it is. Wonder if they'd have an appointment open this morning.......

jaywalker 6 years, 2 months ago

But you think I'm too far right already!

asixbury 6 years, 2 months ago

Once again with the quotations?

It has been proven that many of the captives at GITMO were not terrorists, but people in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were left there indefinitely, with no chance of ever having a trial or being released. And there is no justification for torture (water-boarding).

asixbury 6 years, 2 months ago

Drone them instead of sending the sons of this country to die fighting them sounds like a much better plan to me.

asixbury 6 years, 2 months ago

I'm your master now? In that case, stop using quotations..it's driving me crazy!

rtwngr 6 years, 2 months ago

OMG!!!!!!! I read something of Leonard Pitts, Jr. that I agree with. The constitution of the United States only means to this president what he wants it to mean. Here's to hoping for change in November.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 2 months ago

"Here's to hoping for change in November."

Sorry, but the childish diversionary antics of the Republican Party these days are making that very unlikely. It does not appear to me that there is any need for Obama to even bother to campaign this year.

But maybe you are considering buying a lottery ticket in November, in which case it's possible that there will be a change in your life in November. But I sure wouldn't count on it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 2 months ago

The only Republican candidate who would change this policy is Ron Paul. Is that who you're supporting?

50YearResident 6 years, 2 months ago

Being a Citizen of the United States does not give you a free pass for Treason. When you join the enemy you then come under the laws of war. You can be legally killed.

acg 6 years, 2 months ago

+1 Seriously! Why all the outrage? This guy was a treasonous, terrorist bastard. To me, u get what u get and u don't throw a fit! Don't want to be killed by your government for being a terrorist? Don't be a treasonous terrorist. Ya'll can talk to me about slippery slopes all you want but two of my friends were in Tower #1. And to the dead guy.... As my grandpa always said "F**k him and feed him fishheads!!"

Armored_One 6 years, 2 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

esteshawk 6 years, 2 months ago

And being found guilty of treason requires a court, with at least two witnesses.

RoeDapple 6 years, 2 months ago

For those of you that haven't caught it . . . Lennie is trolling. In the next week or two he will write a column based on the most extreme responses to this column expressing total shock and outrage at those of his least favorite political party. When he drinks a beer with Obama on the White House lawn while discussing this issue I will take it more seriously.

Mike Ford 6 years, 2 months ago

During the Bin Laden mission. it was referred to as Mission Geronimo in reference to the Chiracahua Apache leader who reacted with impugnity to the invasion of the Na-Dene people's homeland. The Seminole people of Florida had the same experience of being labeled as terrorists after they defeated the US military forces in 1838, 1844, and 1855, in Florida, thus insuring that some Seminole people would stay in Florida. Most indigenous people had no 14th amendment rights until 1924 and were treated as enemy combatants as place like Fort Marion Florida where the whole boarding school idea was concocted.Geronimo or Goyalthay was a pow of the US from 1886 to 1909 as were his people. Do me a favor gop....if you want any respect at all please acknowledge the sins of Bush...these issues began with him. Your amnesia is disingenuous and makes you unbelieveable....

asixbury 6 years, 2 months ago

Talk to the US Department of Fish and Wildlife if you have a problem with their eagle-killing permit. That issue has absolutely nothing to do with Obama or this discussion. Nice try, though.

Also, take a lesson in grammar; your misuse of quotations is exceedingly annoying.

asixbury 6 years, 2 months ago

That is true, it does draw me out. I will try my best to ignore it, and maybe you won't find it so entertaining anymore to drive me crazy!

MarcoPogo 6 years, 2 months ago

Or maybe, just maybe, they thought Operation Geronimo sounded cool.

KSWingman 6 years, 2 months ago

So, you think George W. Bush kept Geronimo as a POW from 1886-1909, and the Republican Party fought the Seminole Indians.


Whatever you're smoking, you better share with the rest of us!

Paul R Getto 6 years, 2 months ago

LOL. Now those guys work on Wall Street. There are loan sharks in jail now who didn't charge the interest the payday lenders do now.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 2 months ago

The members of a cult of personality have difficutly finding fault with the object of their worship. If you doubt the existence of such a cult, check out http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/florida/obama.jpg-20120313,0,4307008.photo

Flap Doodle 6 years, 2 months ago

This post pre-removed for using a vulgar sexual term to describe a disappointed progressive.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 2 months ago

I am not with Pitts on this one either but it is worth considering his argument after the perp is down.

This guy deserves no sympathy.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 2 months ago

Even more objectionable was one of the first drone/cruise missile strikes in Yemen under Obama, which hit a village and mostly killed women and children.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 2 months ago

Pitifully, the only objections you have to Obama are his skin tone and party affiliation.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 2 months ago

"Just a guys who calls 'em like I sees 'em."

Says the man blinded by his own unfocused rage.

verity 6 years, 2 months ago

The operative words here are: “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

I no more support President Obama when he fails to do this than I did G W Bush when he was president.

If the laws of our country and our Constitution can be subverted because someone feel it's for the better good, we are all in danger of having it done to us.

"there is precedent, in urgent cases, for a ruling to be handed down in hours or even minutes"

There is no reason that it is necessary to not abide by the Constitution---it only makes all of us less free. Kind of like all the unauthorized wire-tapping which could have easily been authorized if there was a reason for it.

verity 6 years, 2 months ago

No. I thought those words made it obvious. It wasn't a plot. :*)

tbaker 6 years, 2 months ago

The question concerning whether or not it was “legal” for the President to issue orders to have the terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki killed was answered by the US district court who threw out the case arguing this very point brought by the ACLU. The case is closed Mr. Pitts. That’s why we have a congress – to pass laws to govern this kind of behavior from the executive branch. There is no outrage because the scumbag Awlaki got exactly what he deserved.

That said, the government's authority to use lethal force against its own citizens should be limited to circumstances where the threat to life is crystal clear, very specific and imminent, as it obviously was in this case. Nonetheless it disturbs me to see our country give any president unchecked power to kill Americans whom he deems a threat to the country. This is a very slippery slope and badly in need of congressional and judicial oversight of the sort Pitts suggests.

50YearResident 6 years, 2 months ago

When you commet acts of revolution aginst the government you relinquish your right to a fair trial, citizen or not. That is the case here, no trial was necessary. Keep that in mind the next time you are considering doing an act of treason. Enough said!

Armored_One 6 years, 2 months ago

I don't remember any kind of trial over Nazi Germany, but at least a dozen Nazi soldiers were killed in WWII.

I don't remember any trials over North Korea's invasion of South Korea, but I'm pretty sure a couple of those fellas died as well.

I also don't remember anything in the papers about a trial, or conviction in absentia, related to bin Laden, but he was dropped like a sack of wet [BEEP].

Or are you saying those three examples are not valid and the people killed by American soldiers deserved to live their lives along the path they were heading before we adjusted their perceptions?

Armored_One 6 years, 2 months ago

That is not the point that I was making, although you not only probably realized it, but purposely sidestepped it.

This individual, by coordinating multiple attacks, although they were failed attempts, consciously and with direct malice, surrendered his American citizenship.

Or are you saying that the world was a better place with him in it?

Armored_One 6 years, 2 months ago

Outside of movie magic, graveyards don't break peace treaties and dead martyrs are still dead and not giving any support or directives to the massed idiots that follow them.

I will not mourn the death of one vicious, self-important [BEEP]. Others can mourn for me, but personally, I can think of no better end to a person that attempts to attack Americans on American soil.

Armored_One 6 years, 2 months ago

Do you have a hole in your cheek from pushing your tongue into it so hard, Liberty?

Armored_One 6 years, 2 months ago

Three simple points. Yup, I agree, that is three points.

I have one point.

What weighs more, the needs of the many to be protected from the one, or the one's right to due process under a Constitution that he defected from long before his death?

Or, to put it in deathly serious terms:

If he succeeded just once in another attack, before he could be apprehended, would you still declare that he deserved protection? Say an attack your significant other was killed in?

I can honestly say that if that choice was mine, kill the waste of flesh or let your wife die, I'd chamber the round and pull the trigger at point blank range, just to make sure the last thing he sees is my grin.

jafs 6 years, 2 months ago

Yes, this sort of thinking is appealing, on a visceral level.

And, perhaps, with this particular person, the president got it right, in that he really was a threat.

But, once that power is vested in a president, a president who doesn't get it right can do the same thing - that's the problem with it.

Do you really trust a president, even one that you dislike and didn't vote for, to always have the best judgment about this sort of thing?

Armored_One 6 years, 2 months ago

Better a president that you can find basically any time you want than a vigilante that you have to track down.

esteshawk 6 years, 2 months ago

Being found of treason requires a trial.

John Hamm 6 years, 2 months ago

Where's the outrage over a lot of things BOs doing?

Joe Hyde 6 years, 2 months ago

It might be instructive to put ourselves in al-Awlaki's shoes. You're a guy who keeps hearing his name in news reports being circulated worldwide. You're being described as a criminal terrorist linked to multiple attempts to murder U.S. citizens (as well as any non-U.S. citizens who happen to be nearby when the explosives detonate).

Now, if you are al-Awlaki and you have moved overseas to live in a foreign country, and you know you're totally innocent of these accusations you're hearing in the news, wouldn't you immediately rush to the nearest U.S. embassy, surrender yourself to the first Marine gate guard you see and then do everything possible -- including traveling back to the United States -- to clear up this horribly mistaken accusation?

But he didn't do that, did he? No. Instead, he kept to cover, stayed on the move and continued plotting, organizing and training people to commit lethal attacks on American citizens. And he was operating in a country whose chaotic political and legal system are vulnerable to compromise; in Yemen the U.S. government can not physically send our law enforcement agents to apprehend the man peacefully without exposing our officers to lethal ambush by al-Alawi's associates. They'd never make it out of the country alive.

So that pretty much makes it "Predator time" if the point of the exercise is to halt the man's relentless attacks. You hate to think of the body count if that Detroit-bound airliner had actually gone down, if that Times Square bomb had detonated.

RoeDapple 6 years, 2 months ago

al-Awlaki rushing a US embassy? hmmm . . . similiar results?

TheYetiSpeaks 6 years, 2 months ago

A lot of you are getting caught up in the emotion of it. Was Alawi a douchebag? Yes. Do I think he DESERVED a drone shoved up his rear? For sure.
Here's the problem a lot of us are ignoring: For the bulk of the 20th century our government continually gave itself more leeway and powers, specifically to the executive branch. One things Republicans and Democrats don't seem to differ on is once you are President, you don't take powers away from the office. So it continues to this day. Example: Obama seemed pretty intent on closing Guatanamo and getting rid of the Patriot Act while campaigning. I don't mean this as a slam on Obama.....but this is standard business as usual for our last 15 Presidents or so. I don't think anybody believes Obama is going to start arbitrarily killing American citizens without trial. But use a little foresight....Drones were just approved for massive domestic use. The executive branch doesn't give back powers it grants itself and it apparently has given itself the ability to dub an American citizen as an enemy combatant and dispose of them. An allegation is all that stands between you and a drone attack. Now envision our country 50, even 100 years from now....What does it look like? Maybe George Orwell knows.

verity 6 years, 2 months ago

Very well said. You've pretty much hit all the relevant points and used much fewer words than Pitts.

Armstrong 6 years, 2 months ago

Drone strike or hung for treason he is dead either way

TheYetiSpeaks 6 years, 2 months ago

Yes....and all without one of those pesky trials. Even Benedict Arnold, one of the most famous traitors of all time got a trial. By the way, that was in wartime, by today's standards making him an "enemy combatant".

TheYetiSpeaks 6 years, 2 months ago

True.....but conservatives rationalized Bush/Cheney's power grabs too. The problem isn't republicans OR democrats....the problem is the pattern.

classclown 6 years, 2 months ago

TheYetiSpeaks (anonymous) replies…

Yes....and all without one of those pesky trials. Even Benedict Arnold, one of the most famous traitors of all time got a trial. By the way, that was in wartime, by today's standards making him an "enemy combatant". March 16, 2012 at 10:07 a.m.


That post was rather Cait-esque.

When exactly did Benedict Arnold receive a trial for treason?

TheYetiSpeaks 6 years, 2 months ago

December 1779. He was found guilty of 2 lesser offenses, due in no small part to the fact that G. Washington was a fan. Still, even the minor charges angered Arnold to take on more serious acts of espionage.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 2 months ago

"Where is nation's outrage?"

I'm suffering from outrage overload. As I prioritize my outrage, this outrage falls near the bottom of my list. I'm sorry Mr. al-Awlaki chose the path he chose. I'm sorry he chose not to return to the U.S. to face charges. I'm sorry he left a trail of death and destruction behind him.
There, now I feel better. Move on.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 2 months ago

Rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other.
He was a wanted man. He could have turned himself in at which time I would have shouted from the rooftops had he not been given due process. He shirked his responsibility and as a result, his rights weren't given the full benefit of the doubt. That said, from reading above posts, a court has ruled on this matter. I'm good with that. I'll lose no sleep tonight.

jafs 6 years, 2 months ago

And yet, given our current way of proceeding, he could have been held indefinitely without trial.

Unless your "shouting from the rooftops" can prevent that, it's not that helpful for any innocent people being held that way.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 2 months ago

American citizens are treated differently than illegal combatants captured during conflict. It reminds me of an individual born in the U.S., of foreign born parents who were here studying. They left the country when the baby was just a few months old. The child grew up in another country, another culture. He never thought of himself as American. He was captured on the battlefield and taken to GITMO, where, indeed he would have been held indefinitely. But when it was discovered that he had be born in the U.S., he was immediately moved to an American prison where he would enjoy the rights of other citizens. I don't recall his name, nor do I recall the outcome of that case. However, I assume he received legal counsel, and went through the judicial process.

Katara 6 years, 2 months ago

I agree with Lateralis.

We had the intel. There was no reason to not go ahead and apprehend him. There was no reason not to give him a fair trial - something that is guaranteed to all American citizens. He didn't relinquish his citizenship. There is an actual process that has to be done in order to do that and in order for the U.S. not to continue to recognize something as a U.S. citizens and therefore no longer bound to the protections of the Constitution.


We do tell other countries how democracy and due process works all the time. It is important that we practice what we preach.

jafs 6 years, 2 months ago

I would expand your last comment, and apply it to many other issues as well.

classclown 6 years, 2 months ago

TheYetiSpeaks (anonymous) replies…

December 1779. He was found guilty of 2 lesser offenses, due in no small part to the fact that G. Washington was a fan. Still, even the minor charges angered Arnold to take on more serious acts of espionage. March 16, 2012 at 11:20 a.m.


That had nothing to do with treason or espionage and he was still every bit the patriot then.

I ask again. When did Benedict Arnold receive a trial for treason?

TheYetiSpeaks 6 years, 2 months ago

I feel like we went on a tangent here....and you missed the point I was originally making. Arnold was brought up on several charges, most of which were dropped, but some thought were suspicious. Its probable that several officers had noticed some curious intent. He wound up being found guilty on a couple " bookkeeping" errors that had little to do with anything. However, to say he was still regarded as a patriot was not accurate considering that since he had married a Tory woman 2 years previous he had taken to associating himself with other Tories and was probably firmly entrenched in their cause. Historians go back and forth on this but it's really neither here nor there since it has little to do with my original point which was that it is of little importance whether Awlaki got what he deserved, but rather whether the government should have the ability to do such a thing. Awlaki didn't die in a military skirmish where he was openly in battle with Americans, but from a drone attack on an express order from the President of the United States. Big difference.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.