Let’s start where we agree. Anwar al-Awlaki was a propagandist for violence and extremism. His repeated calls to kill Americans cannot be denied or underestimated. The extent of his actual involvement in terrorist operations is something the public is not privy to.
He was an Internet personality, not a scholar on Islam. He lacked the authority to issue religious verdicts and rulings. Real Muslim scholars refuted his twisted interpretations, but they lacked his charisma and slick publishing apparatus. American Muslims condemned his video messages endorsing the killing of Americans.
But now to the more difficult issue. The Fifth Amendment states, “No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” We should reject any domestic or foreign policies that diminish constitutional protections.
While the killings of Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan by a U.S. drone strike may be popular with many, times and enemies have a tendency to change.
If we accept that the president can order the killing of any American without due process of law, the Constitution is rendered meaningless.
Even in the post-9/11 era, our leaders and military personnel have a duty to uphold the Constitution.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has advocated for hundreds of American Muslims denied due process when placed on no-fly or watch lists. Citizens of all faiths and political persuasions should know that their constitutional rights could be similarly denied in some future national crisis.
We join the ACLU and other groups in urging Congress and the courts to take up this issue.
Numerous studies show that drone strikes fuel anti-American anger and boost recruiting for al-Qaeda. There is little evidence that the attacks decrease the terror threat or make America any safer. In fact, the opposite may be true.
Our nation’s war on terror will not be won through force of arms. It will be won when we are shown to be a nation in which respect for the law transcends fear, and hostility toward today’s enemies does not cause us to forget our founding principles.
America’s enemies can never win on the field of battle. Their only hope of an American defeat is one we inflict on ourselves.
Nihad Awad is national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties organization.