One thing is for damn sure: if you pick a fight with Ron Paul, you pick a fight with a tiny, but fanatically dedicated, minority of his cult followers – all of whom argue with the certainty of True Believers that they and they alone possess the esoteric keys to understanding the REAL Constitution, as opposed to the one contrived by the neocons among hoi polloi who are too busy with “Who wants to be a Dubya lookalike?” contests to be bothered with weighty matters of liberty and tyranny.
From a six mile high perspective, it’s a fairly simple proposition: the 5th and 14th Amendments expressly guarantee that no citizen of the United States shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law – which means, in effect, that the government branch or agency seeking to do just that must present and prove its case in a court of law. [Interesting aside for Paulbot Tenthers: assuming the federal government seeks to kill Joe Doakes and is ultimately vindicated by the Supreme Court of the United States, does the state of which Joe Doakes is a citizen and in which he resides have the right to nullify the SCOTUS ruling and refuse to hand him over to federal marshals? Just asking.]
From a mile high perspective, the landscape becomes less clearly defined: what if Joe Doakes decides to engage in sedition against the nation of his birth from within its borders? In the wake of the Adams administration’s attempt to deal with that reality via the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, Constitutional law evolved to hold the position that, yes, within certain acceptable limits, Joe Doakes’ 1st Amendment rights guarantee him the latitude to fulminate against the federal government and anything else that sticks in his craw. In the event he crosses the line and calls for outright insurrection or armed rebellion against the federal government, he will find himself in a court of law and subject to the due process referred to in the 5th and 14th Amendments.
On the ground level, the so-called “fog of war” rules the day. And yes: we are at war – we have been since we were attacked on September 11, 2001. Our enemy is an amorphous and at times ephemeral entity that wears no formal uniforms nor gives even lip-service to the Geneva Conventions. In the larger historical context, the enemy is Islam – a barbarically backward and dangerously violent religion and culture (actually, the two are one) that poses a clear, present and existential threat to Western Civilization. In the more proximate analysis, the imminent threat comes from Islamic jihad which, since 2001, has perpetrated over 16,000 verified acts of terrorism, resulting in the deaths of over 10,000 innocent civilians.
The war in which we now find ourselves was not formally declared – nor need it have been, in spite of what Ron Paul and his whackadoo followers insist: the U.S. Constitution clearly grants Congress the power to authorize the Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces to wage undeclared war at its discretion, a power that has been exercised repeatedly since the late 18th century and was exercised again in a Joint Resolution on September 18, 2001. Since then, both George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama have acted in accordance with that resolution, directing our armed forces to do what was and is necessary to ensure the safety and security of the United States.
Now for the Paulbots’ argument: they claim that under no circumstances whatsoever may any citizen of U.S. be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Period. End of story. It doesn’t matter how long the citizen resided either in the U.S. or outside of it or how closely affiliated he is with the American way of life: the fact that he was born on American soil confers upon him all the rights and privileges enumerated for all U.S. citizens in the Constitution, no matter where in the world he lives or what in the world he does.
Unless he renounces his citizenship in a formal procedure involving a document signed in a U.S. embassy, nothing he says or does can abrogate his civil rights. Even if he renounces his U.S. citizenship verbally or through the laws of another nation, or joins an entity that is actively engaged in belligerent actions against the U.S., he still remains a U.S. citizen entitled to all the protections granted him by the U.S. Constitution.
According to Frank Jack Fiamingo, “Our system of justice requires that we do everything in our power to protect the rights of the individual BEFORE taking punitive action. Yes, it sometimes lets the wrong people go free, but it also sometimes prevents the wrong person from being executed or unjustly prosecuted.”
Sounds great in theory – the most comfortable chat room in existence, for it affords theorists the luxury of debating life and death questions without ever having to struggle with the pain of life or inhale the stench of death. In a Theory World dominated by Manichean thinking, false dichotomies are standard operating procedure: the only colors are black and white; the only options are This or That.
As it goes, the theory would carry a certain degree of plausibility if Anwar al-Awlaki were a lone-wolf seditionist holed up in a Ruby Ridge, Idaho cabin or a cult leader in a compound in Waco, Texas. But the facts speak otherwise: Awlaki not only turned his back on the land of his birth and moved to Yemen…he became a high-ranking member of al-Qaida – a terrorist entity responsible for the 911 Attack that is presently engaged in on-going efforts to wreak further death and destruction upon the United States.
Awlaki was no common domestic criminal accused of perpetrating an act of robbery, rape or murder: he was an enemy combatant actively engaged in waging war against the United States and he proudly admitted as much in Youtube videos that have gone viral. How best to deal with a clear and present danger such as this?
According to the joint resolution passed by Congress in September 2001,
…the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
Nevermind the pressing constraints of reality: let us retire briefly to Paulbot Theory World and travel back in time to a period before the death of Awlaki, where the stark letter of Constitutional law demands that not a hair of his head be tousled out of place unless and until his civil rights are respected.
Very well…where do we begin? Shall we send in a contingent of Navy SEALs to apprehend him? Let’s assume the operation unfolds without a hitch and he is physically apprehended. Will the SEALs have to bring along a federal prosecutor to read Awlaki his Miranda rights? If he fails to properly Mirandize the “suspect,” will this constitute grounds for the future dismissal of all charges?
As a U.S. citizen, Awlaki has the right to a jury trial in a civilian criminal court – much like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Are the Paulbots prepared for the ensuing circus? And what if a jury of his peers finds Awlaki not guilty – in spite of the fact that he clearly IS guilty? Would Rep. Ron Paul himself offer an apology to Awlaki for all the trouble we put him through?
And what if the Navy SEALs encounter armed resistance? How many of these men would have to die to satisfy the Paulbots’ Pharisaical fetish for the letter of the law above its practical application in the present reality? What if all them were to perish? Would Rep. Paul be there to console the families of the dead warriors by assuring them that the Constitution is still intact and that America is a safer place because of it?
Now for the really BIG question: What would Ronald Reagan have done when faced with this circumstance? How about Thomas Jefferson – who dispatched our frigate fleet to engage the Barbary pirates before being authorized by Congress to do so? What would Jefferson have done?
If history is any guide, I can confidently answer that both Reagan and Jefferson would have done what our current president did: they would have ordered the death of an especially dangerous enemy combatant – who happened to be an American citizen – and not lost a moment of sleep for having done so.