Lt. Col. Ralph Peters appeared on Fox News to discuss the Obama administration’s controversial drone assassination program. Peters made some controversial fact-free and misleading statements of his own that, as you’d expect with Fox News, almost certainly left people with not just a lack of facts, but a wrong idea of what happened and why this program is so controversial.
Here’s a few snippets of what Peters said:
“Throughout our history we have killed Americans who took up arms against their law-abiding fellow citizens,” he asserted. “This is not a legal issue. It’s not an issue at all.”
“If an American turns his back on Americans and tries to kill Americans, you kill the sucker, period,” Peters added. “No legal issue. Kill him.”
This issue has consumed thousands of pages online via blog posts, essays, magazine stories, and news stories already and all of that probably hasn’t come close to fully revealing what a horrible and ugly mess this program is. So I won’t rehash what has already been said or try to bring it all together.
What I will do is reiterate one important point and make one of my own. First, this is why it’s generally a bad idea to mix military with civilian rule. Peters understands killing, we get that. That’s how we trained him. That’s how we desensitized him. Some people don’t function in the mind like normal people do after going through what he has, and we did that to him on purpose precisely so that he wouldn’t hesitate to kill anything deemed a threat. While he may understand combat and killing, he obviously doesn’t understand the Constitution, American history, or the facts of this controversy.
Which leads to the second point which has to be repeated to people on a daily basis: Anwar Al-Awlaki was not alleged to be armed, was not alleged to have taken up arms against the United States, was nowhere near any recognized battlefield via hiding in Yemen, and his 16-year-old son that the U.S. also assassinated was also none of those things.
Nobody in this country is debating the right or necessity to go after Americans that represent a clear and present danger, like people firing guns at our military on a battlefield, people like John Walker Lindh. International law and American courts have long recognized such exceptions, which is what Peters was talking about without realize that such exceptions don’t come close to applying to this specific situation.
Al-Awlaki never picked up a gun, built a bomb, never did anything much more than urge terrorism against the United States, an act that is inarguably protected by the Constitution under Brandenburg v. Ohio. Unpopular as it may be, the Supreme Court has found that nothing less than incitement to imminent lawlessness can be criminalized. And would we have it any other way? Do you remember Sharon Angle’s (ran against Harry Reid in 2008) controversial second amendment remedies comment? Or Sarah Palin’s gun sight graphics on the districts of Democratic Representatives? Many militant anti-government extremists and Tea Party’ers could make the Obama administration’s kill list under these lax standards. And here’s something many people don’t seem to get: they could make a Romney administration’s kill list too, because Romney, Michelle Bachmann, and Newt Gingrich all lovingly endorsed the Obama administration’s drone program during the 2012 GOP primaries.
This isn’t a controversy just because Al-Awlaki was an American, it’s more so because he was almost certainly unarmed when he was killed nowhere near a battlefield, the United States made no verifiable attempt to capture him alive despite obviously knowing exactly where he was, didn’t charge him with a single crime, didn’t release any evidence of guilt of a crime, and basically shredded the Constitution to kill this man and his child son. It’s controversial because the killing of Al-Awlaki had all the attributes of a third-world tyranny that cares nothing for the rule of law or the rights of its citizens.
There are few more defining attributes of tyrannies than a government ignoring its highest laws to engage in extrajudicial killings of its own citizens with its intelligence agencies and military based on nothing more than a declaration of guilt by the Supreme Leader. I don’t expect Lt. Col. Peters to understand any of that because we specifically brainwashed him not to, but now he’s spread misinformation with millions of viewers of the nation’s most watched cable network and only muddied the situation further.