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Assassination and the 14th Amendment

Drones and targeted killings are discussed on editorial pages every day. But has the discussion been as targeted as the killings? Our colleague Jack Slack doesn’t think so. Here’s his take on the way these issues are being talked about:

America’s use of drones is in the news nowadays. And when it comes to discussing those small, unmanned aircraft, the focus is often on the virtually inevitable killing of innocent civilians near the actual target — collateral damage, as it’s called. But in fact, drones are way down the list when it comes to collateral damage. Using cluster bombs or a single 2,000 pound bomb against the typical drone target would kill many more innocent civilians.

America’s policy of “targeted killings” — called “assassination” by its critics — is also in the news. Drones are used for many purposes, but their use for targeted killings in the Afghan border region of Pakistan and in Yemen has led to heated opinions on the editorial pages of newspapers. The discussion often centers on the permissibility of assassinating members of al Qaeda and/or any other terrorist group, and whether the president or upper echelon leadership have had a “proper” review of the decision before assassinating people,

The proper topic of discussion should be whether it is constitutional to assassinate anyone. In other words does the U.S. Constitution provide due process to “all persons” under its jurisdiction? Or is the right to due process (habeas corpus) guaranteed only to citizens of the United States?

Section 9  U.S. Constitution reads: “The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” That means when Rebellion or Invasion endangers public safety, then habeas can be suspended.   The U.S. Civil War was rebellion, terrorists are not invaders, nor revolutionaries. They are international criminals, not unlike the Mafia.

The 14th Amendment reads: …”No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The creators of the 14th Amendment were obviously well aware of the use of the words citizens and persons.

Aliens are entitled to constitutional protections. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution apply to aliens residing within the United States. As such, the courts guarantee aliens the right to due process of law and equal protection of the laws. Courts have generally construed the Fourth Amendment as applicable to aliens as well.  If a person exists under U.S. jurisdiction he is entitled to constitutional protections weather he is a citizen, legal or illegal alien.

In 1798, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “Habeas Corpus secures every man here, alien or citizen, against everything which is not law, whatever shape it may assume.”

 —Jack Slack

More Notes

The World Happiness Report, released by the United Nations, ranks countries on six key variables that support well-being: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity. This year, Finland is first, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland, followed by Netherlands, Canada,New Zealand, Sweden, Australia. The United States, which has never been in the top ten, silpped down four places from last year and is now 18th. President Trump may make American Great Again, but apparently not happier.