by Jacob G. Hornberger
No doubt that many supporters of the US government’s war on terrorism and its global assassination program will come to the defense of the Libyans who executed former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi after taking him captive. They will say, “What’s wrong with executing Gaddafi? He was a terrorist, wasn’t he? Those people didn’t need a stinking trial. Everyone knows that Gaddafi was guilty. The Libyans were right to just shoot him in the head right there and then.”
After all, isn’t that the mindset in the U.S. government’s war on terrorism? Sure, they permit some suspected terrorists to have trials but certainly not all of them. It’s entirely up to U.S. officials, on purely an ad hoc, discretionary basis. Some suspected terrorists get trials. Others get indefinite incarceration. Others get torture. Others get kangaroo tribunals. Others get execution. Others get assassination.
The fact is that no matter what Gaddafi did — no matter how many crimes he supposedly committed — no matter how horrific such crimes might have been — once he was taken in custody, he was entitled to be treated decently and humanely. He was entitled to a fair trial, one in which he was guaranteed all the rights and protections of due process of law, including right to counsel, right to cross-examine witnesses, the presumption of innocence, and trial by jury. Only after a fair trial and upon conviction would it have been proper to have imposed punishment.
Those are the principles for which America once stood. Those are the principles enshrined in our Bill of Rights. They are principles that our ancestors insisted had to be applied to every person, not just Americans, before the government could deprive a person of life, liberty, or property. They are principles that stretch all the way back to Magna Carta, when the English people’s own government was killing them and stealing from them without due process of law.
Unfortunately, they are no longer the principles embraced by the United States. Seizing upon the 9/11 attacks, President Bush decreed that he now wielded temporary, emergency powers — including the omnipotent power to label people terrorists and have his military forces and CIA forces take them into custody, hold them as long as they wanted without trial, and torture them. Some of the suspected terrorists have also been executed after being taken into custody, without a trial. President Obama, for his part, has extended those temporary, emergency powers to encompass the omnipotent, non-reviewable authority to assassinate Americans. Such power has most recently been expanded to encompass the assassination of American minors.
Ironically, the powers now wielded by the federal government, post 9/11, are the same types of powers wielded by such Middle East dictators as Gaddafi, Egypt’s Mubarak, and Syria’s Assad. Perhaps that’s not surprising, given that the U.S government specifically selected these brutal dictatorships to serve as torture partners with the U.S. government. All three of those dictatorships tortured suspected terrorists on request of the U.S. government, without even the semblance of a trial to determine guilt or innocence.
Perhaps the brutal execution of Muammar Gaddafi will be a wake-up call for Americans, causing them to ask themselves a fundamentally important question: What are U.S. imperialism and the resulting “war on terrorism” doing to us, both as Americans and as human beings?
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.
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