Covert operations clash with civil liberties

Dirty Wars is a 2013 documentary film on US-led covert operations directed by Jeremy Scahill

Dirty Wars is a 2013 documentary film on US-led covert operations directed by Jeremy Scahill

Victoria Liu, Editor of News & Opinion

April 2011, Gulf of Aden, near Yemen. A hunt down on Anwar al-Awlaki began, as the United States recently obtained crucial intelligence.

Who is Anwar al-Awlaki? Why does the United States try to hunt him down?

Anwar al-Awlaki is an American citizen who settled in the metropolitan area of Washington and used to serve as the Muslim cleric at George Washington University. He became increasingly radicalized after United States’ invasion in Iraq. He sheltered members of al-Qaeda in Yemen and eventually served as a lecturer for his radicalized ideology. 

September 30, 2011, Al Jawf Governorate, Yemen. Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a drone operation conducted by the United States.

But, the fact that Awlaki is an American citizen caused anger across the United States. Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon and a member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told journalist Jeremy Scahill, “It’s important for the American people to know when the president can kill an American citizen, and when [he] can’t.”

The anger surrounding President Obama’s action to target and kill an American citizen was mainly because of the absence to con Awlaki’s due process as an American citizen. The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution states that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” Awlaki, an American citizen, was killed without a trial, without prejudicial review, and without sufficient disclosure of evidence to ensure transparency.

Jeremy Scahill, a journalist from The Nation, compiled what he saw of covert operations overseas into a documentary titled Dirty Wars. Through this Oscar-nominated documentary, he presented how covert operations promote an endless cycle of wars, as it creates more enemies and spreads more anti-American sentiment instead of promoting harmony and peace.

In a televised address on drone and counter-terrorism policy, President Obama offered his side of the story. He said, “For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen….without due process…But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens…. his citizenship should no more serve as a shield…”

The United States, in recent decades especially since 9/11, has dramatically expanded drone operations overseas, killing and targeting terrorists from above. Clearly, the United States has confronted a dilemma between national security and civil liberties. While each President of the United States is bound to protect America’s safety and security from terror, it is also crucial to refrain from conducting specific actions at the expense of curtailing freemen and liberties at home.