Saturday, October 1, 2011

Shades of Gray

     It would be nice if there were just two sides to every question, but it's just not true. For example, if I were to ask what needs to be done to end the current recession, the answers would run the gamut from more government spending to cutting spending to the bone, from increasing taxes on the wealthy to cutting taxes for everyone, and countless other real and imaginary solutions.
     Even in court the question ostensibly is guilt or innocence of the defendant, but we all know that the verdict goes to the attorney who successfully convinces the jury that his analysis of the “shades of gray” is the correct one. If it were not so, no “guilty” party would ever later be set free on the basis of better evidence.
     One of the problems with growing older is that one can discern the gray shades; as a result one's judgment swings back and forth between the “sides” of the question. It can get very confusing.
     Such a case is in the headlines today: Was the killing of the terrorist, al-Awlaki, a native-born American citizen, legal? Amendment V of the Constitution states that “No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law . . .” That seems clear enough.
     The government is taking the stand that the killing was justified as “due process in war.” Officials say Awlaki's emails inspired accused Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Hasan. Awlaki also helped plan the failed Underwear bomb attack, and was part of the plot to bring down cargo planes with explosives inside computer printers.
     According to CBS News national security analyst Juan Zarate, ". . . based on the rules of self-defense, based on the principles that we're at war with al-Qaeda and the fact that he was a part of the group, self-professed, all of that suggests that it's lawful and appropriate to go after him and to kill him."
     This begs the question, “Are we really at war.” Referring again to the Constitution, Article I, Section 8 says that, “The Congress shall have the power . . .to declare war. . .” Although the Congress has authorized extended military combat against al-Qaeda, it has not officially declared war.
     But the Constitution does not say “due process of war;” it says “due process of law.” While Awlaki may very well have done all the nefarious things of which he is accused, “due process of law” means “. . . a presentment or indictment of a grand jury . . .” (Amendment V)
     In my heart I feel no remorse over Awlaki's death, but here is another question of black and white: Are we or are we not a nation of law? I hope so, in which case I think this act, although I approve of it in my heart, is constitutionally questionable in my head. As I said, seeing both sides does not clarify the issue – it confuses it.
     What do you think?
     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

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