I’ve spent much of the day reading a dozen or so newspaper articles, opinion pieces and commentaries on the pros and cons of the killing of American citizen and Jihadist, Anwar al Awlaki, who died in Yemen yesterday after being targeted by a Hellfire missile fired from an American operated drone aircraft.
The left and the civil and human rights folk together with folk from the libertarian right have condemned the killing as illegal and unconstitutional, while the right-wing, led noisily by the neoconservatives, have praised the killing as a victory and argued that in time of war such killings are quite justified.
What’s missing from all of these arguments from both sides is the fact that such extra-judicial killings can work two ways. No matter what the rights and wrongs of these kinds of killings are, it means that if it’s okay for the US and its allies to kill their enemies in this way, then its okay for the enemy to do likewise and kill American leaders and leaders of American allies; and since the President of the United States also happens to be the Commander in Chief of American forces, he now becomes a quite legitimate target by exactly the same virtues and logic that the President viewed al Awlaki to be a legitimate target.
Targeted assassinations, of course, are nothing new; the Israelis have quite famously and openly attempted to legitimise the extra-judicial killing of its non-combatant enemies for years. It could even be argued from an historical point of view that Israel’s long history of not very seriously challenged policy of targeted assassinations has paved the way for the Americans to do likewise. Whilst the practise has caused outrage in the past, that outrage hadn’t stopped the killings – killings which continue almost daily in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere against Islamic militants, both combatant and non-combatant. Today, people have become so war-weary they have become immune to more news about such killings. In the case of the latest killing, the uproar is because al Awlaki was an American citizen but this too will soon become just another killing that will usher in a new era of Americans killing Americans justified solely on the basis that they are a threat to security.
One wonders how long it will be before a militant will be targeted and killed in America itself simply because he represents ‘a threat to security’.
And one wonders how long it will be before American and Israeli leaders are themselves targeted by their enemies.