“You mean to tell me this American citizen has been locked up, without charges, in solitary confinement, for almost a year over there?” asks the president sharply.
“Yes, sir,” says a high ranking advisor, “at our request, sir. He’s articulate, and pissed off and self-righteous. He preaches in perfcct English and in native Arabic. He has a worldwide following of young jihadi types. He could be lethal winning hearts and minds for al Que’da.”
“Can’t we charge him with anything? He’s an American citizen, are we now detaining American citizens without charges, without habeas corpus, without any sort of judicial process? Has the Constitution been suspended for citizens who are too critical of our policies and I’m just the last to find out?”
“We really don’t have grounds to charge him with anything, sir, other than abusing the First Amendment. We need to hold him, though. He’s dangerous, charismatic, his internet sermons are inspiring fanatical youth around the world.”
“Can’t we shut down his website?”
“We did. The sermons circulate on DVD. It’s best to keep him locked up, sir.”
“Under the secret detention black site policies Dick Cheney and David Addington put into place when this country went to the dark side?”
Sometimes no answer is the best answer, the advisors hold their peace.
“Charge this guy and have him extradited or tell Yemen to cut him loose,” orders the president, turning to the next name on the list.
A year or so later, still not charged with any crime, the American cleric was released from prison.
A couple of years later his name appears on a kill list given to the president. The president is known for his eidetic memory.
“Isn’t this the guy who Yemen had in solitary without charges, the American citizen we finally told them to cut loose?”
“Yes, Mr. President. He’s still giving sermons, and his rhetoric is on fire. We need to silence him.”
“I ask you again, general, can we charge this motherfucker with a crime before we kill him? Any crime? At one time extra-judicial executions were frowned upon. We Americans always frowned upon them, publicly at least. Are we now killing even American citizens without feeling the need to even charge them with a crime? Doesn’t his father have a lawsuit in our courts to keep him off the kill list?”
“The law suit will be moot, sir, if we shoot.”
Moment of decision, where one would like to imagine a man of integrity drawing a principled line he will not cross. An American citizen cannot be killed without judicial review. Even if he is charged and tried in absentia, there is some legal process, some requirement to prove guilt of a crime serious enough to punish with execution, before we sentence one of our citizens to death. It’s just wrong, putting a name on a secret list and designating him for death, especially one of our own citizens and it sets a very dangerous precedent.
“Mr. President, he’s been eluding us for many months, for over a year. He’s becoming a hero in that wild tribal area in Yemen and a symbol of defiance. We know where he is tonight, we have a small window to act. We need to kill him now, sir.”
A long pause. “Fine,” the signature scrawled left-handed next to the American’s name, marked for death. “Just don’t come to me in a couple of weeks and tell me you also killed his teenaged son with the dreadlocks, or the kid’s friends listening to hiphop somewhere.”
“Will do, Mr. President, absolutely. Thank you, sir.”