Political junkies on Twitter were quick to pick up on Senator Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) line of tweets calling for the death of a U.S. citizen operating as an Al-Qaeda propaganda spokesman. The tweets very clearly outlined Graham's case, reasoning that the spokesman, Adam Gadahn of California, is an enemy combatant. While the dilemma of engaging in the targeted killing of U.S. citizens has already emerged with the drone-strike against Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, Graham is taking the slippery slope to a new degree of descent. The targeted killing of U.S. citizens without regard to their constitutional rights is unacceptable, and Graham needs to cut the chest-thumping rhetoric.
Graham's comments come after Gadahn posted a 39-minute video calling for the assassination of the U.S. ambassador in Yemen, attacks against U.S. soldiers, and diplomats abroad. While Gadahn, a natural-born U.S. citizen who left the states, is certainly a proponent of terrorist action against the U.S., he is nevertheless a U.S. citizen and has constitutional rights as such.
Anwar al-Awlaki's demise, ordered by Obama, has come under heavy criticism for just this line of reasoning. The Obama administration's defense against this criticism was an "imminent threat" rationale. However, apply this logic to Gadahn's case. A spokesman, as opposed to an active Al-Qaeda handler and recruiter like al-Awlaki, is not an imminent threat. Graham obviously disagrees.
Graham's first tweet on the subject read, "Adam Gadahn is an American citizen who has aligned himself with Al-Qaeda. He should be considered an enemy combatant, not a common criminal." Further tweets elaborated that his death or capture by military intelligence forces is the appropriate reaction, and in the case of capture, no Miranda rights should be read.
Here's the problem with Graham's rhetoric, and why it's ultimately dangerous. First off, there's still a debate on whether the Constitution was violated with the targeted killing of al-Awalaki (much stands to suggest it was). That's under the guise of the imminent threat defense. Currently, the Obama administration doesn't think Gadahn is an imminent threat, but Graham certainly does, and now his supporters are jumping on the associated with terrorist, no longer a U.S. citizen with rights camp.
There are some strong implications here. How much must be chipped away before the general public and electorate realize that xonstitutional rights are incrementally vanishing? Respecting these rights doesn't mean suspects won't be punished for being a terrorist, accomplice, etc. There is a thing called due process that can still find the accused guilty when they have in fact committed an actual crime.
There's an emotional narrative to hunting terrorists in the U.S., and it's bound to encourage an emotional response. However, that response should never trump what many hold to be American values. Is it defending the Constitution if you end up destroying it? Graham's rhetoric suggests so, and that's something startling.
This issue has been on the table since al-Awlaki, but now incidents like Graham's tweets are pushing the discussion in the wrong direction. Think what you will about Gahdahn. Your assessment of his character is sure to be overwhelmingly negative. But he's still a U.S. citizen and has constitutional rights. It's time to safeguard those before we give up what we're protecting.