Secret. Murder. Panels.

In a wonderful piece published by Reuters this evening, we come to learn that “a secretive panel of senior government officials” is responsible for placing people—U.S. citizens included—on a “kill or capture” list.

Let me spell that out for you: The government of the United States of America, steward of freedom, fairness, and democracy, now includes a secret murder panel. A small number of unidentified officials who do not have the authority to do so under any law whatsoever meet in secret, off the public record, to conspire to use the government’s resources to commit acts of violence against anyone, including U.S. citizens.

It doesn’t get a lot clearer than that, folks. I’m going to hesitate to say that “the government” is claiming this or that authority, though. This isn’t about the government. It’s not about division of power or constitutional limits.

This is a conspiracy to commit kidnapping and murder, and to do so through abuse of the power of the government.

One of the basic pillars of a society bound by law is that it is unacceptable to murder human beings. No idea is more constant across all cultures, religions, and legal regimes then the prohibition on killing people. No crime is punished more severely than the taking of a life without valid, proven reason why it was necessary.

Over the years, many people have disagreed on what constitutes validity, proof, and other concepts, and out of this problem were created formalized court systems. These institutions bear the burden of deciding how to define the proper and judicious application of punishment for crime. They are the final authority on matters of criminality and civil conflict.

The courts are where Anwar al-Awlaki’s fate should have been decided. There are procedures for convicting people of crimes in absentia, and they certainly apply when the urgency of judgment overrides the fleeing defendant’s right to be present at trial. If he truly had committed crimes against the United States, he would likely be convicted and sentenced quickly. If his crimes were serious enough, the court could order his death or capture and empower someone to enforce it.

The word of a room full of secretive men is not a substitute for the court’s judgment. It is a crime on the same level as anything al-Awlaki could have been concocting. If a cabal of private citizens were to conspire to do the same thing in the same way, those people would be criminals under the law of any country. The conspirators’ involvement in the government does not make the secret murder panels any more acceptable. In fact, it makes their acts even more criminal. These individuals need to be brought to light and made accountable for their crimes.

This cannot stand. No secret murder panels. Not in my country.

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