Middle East Matters: Al-Awlaki's killing: Why Ron Paul isn't ready for prime time

Published: Monday, Oct. 3 2011 7:00 a.m. MDT

In this Nov. 8, 2010 file image taken from video and released by SITE Intelligence Group on Monday, Anwar al-Awlaki speaks in a video message posted on radical websites. A senior U.S. counterterrorism official says U.S. intelligence indicates that U.S.-born al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki has been killed in Yemen.

Associated Press

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For the second time this year, Americans can celebrate the elimination of another enemy of the state. Radical U.S.-born imam Anwar Al-Awlaki and other terrorists were blown up in Yemen by a drone last week, and the Obama administration deserves credit for taking seriously its responsibility to defend and protect this country.

Support for the attack has come from all quarters, including qualified praise from the organized Muslim community: CAIR declared that a “voice of hate has been eliminated,” while MPAC “rejects Al-Awlaki’s increasingly irrelevant message of violence.” (One wonders when his message was ever “relevant,” but I digress.)

Speaking of irrelevant, there was one prominent politician who spoke out against the lethal operation: Rep. Ron Paul. Proclaiming, “I don’t think that’s a good way to deal with our problems,” the man who would be our next commander-in-chief gave us this initial reaction: “I think it’s sad.” He went on to contrast Al-Awlaki’s killing with the execution of bomber Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted in a court of law before being put on death row. After hearing insightful comments like these, one wonders why the good doctor ever stopped delivering babies in Texas.

To recap, Al-Awlaki was the leader of external operations for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, perhaps the most active al-Qaida group in the world. It is estimated that 16 out of the 26 al-Qaida attacks against the American homeland were planned or inspired by Al-Awlaki, including the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, the 2009 Christmas Day underwear bomber, and the botched 2010 Times Square attack.

In a video available online, the terrorist praised the killing of 13 people at Fort Hood by a radical Muslim soldier as a “heroic and wonderful act” and called on Muslims to kill Americans.

President Obama has elected to continue the Bush administration’s post-9/11 policy of authorizing the killing of U.S. citizens abroad if there is strong evidence of their involvement in terrorist activities. There is believed to be an official, secret list of those citizens who can be targeted. The elimination of a man who methodically planned to kill hundreds of his fellow Americans is exhibit A for the wisdom of this policy.

To be sure, a great deal of care needs to be taken in identifying those on the list. However, American citizenship shouldn’t protect someone living abroad from suffering the immediate consequences of plotting mass murders on American soil.

In an ideal world, the U.S. government could have simply asked the Yemeni government to round up the dual-national terrorist and extradite him to this country. However, that was simply not possible in a lawless country without a stable government. At any rate, it’s unlikely that Dr. Paul, a noted isolationist, would have supported the deployment of American special forces in the Middle East to track down terrorists and bring them to trial.

The only idea that Dr. Paul has put forth so far to deal with bad guys in the Middle East is to have the State Department issue letters of marque and reprisal to deal with Somali pirates. This power, sanctioned by the U.S. Constitution, would allow individual bounty hunters to do the government’s dirty work. After posting a bond with the government and promising to abide by the rules of international law, the bounty hunters would be free to capture or kill terrorists in exchange for bounty money. How this proposal would contribute to greater stability in the region or bring terrorists to justice is beyond me.

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