Illustration by Bela Messex.
Illustration by Bela Messex.

Nasser al-Awlaki, the father of U.S. citizen and assassination target Anwar al-Awlaki, appealed to the American Civil Liberties Union to seek a federal court order restraining the execution of his son.

This plea, made in early July, comes in light of the Obama administration’s practice of assassinating U.S. citizens considered potential enemies of the state.

For a party that has condemned the Bush administration for unconstitutional imprisonment and eavesdropping, as the Obama administration has, this is a significant step backwards. Why, even during an effort to push our country forward in foreign relations, are we still able to maintain domestic inequality so openly? And since when are constitutional rights up for debate?

“There is very little information available to the public about the U.S. targeting of people far from any battlefield,” according to the ACLU website. “A program that authorizes killing U.S. citizens with disclosed standards is unconstitutional, unlawful and un-American.”

As of now, the ACLU is arguing that the law it invokes for such authority — the International Emergency Economic Powers Act — holds no cemented power within the legal system.

The suit asks the courts to consider prohibiting unjustified assassinations of U.S. citizens and require full disclosure in regard to the criteria used to assess whether a given citizen is, in fact, a terrorist.

When the ACLU took the al-Awlaki case, regulations implemented by the Treasury Department several years ago dictated that any U.S. persons engaging in any transactions with “specially designated global terrorists” were barred legal representation, making any act of protection on their behalf a criminal offense. Roughly two weeks later, Anwar was officially labeled a global terrorist. The ACLU submitted a request, urging the Treasury to consider the imperativeness of quick action, but the Treasury Department never responded.

More and more, our paranoia over hot-button words like “terrorist” is leading us astray from upholding national promises. These assassinations, which involve the dropping of a bomb over a confirmed target, unquestionably risk and ignore the lives of surrounding civilians. Furthermore, this act denies the right to an attorney and due process of the law, which should under no circumstances be denied to any citizen.

And despite his alleged terrorist status, rest assured that al-Awlaki is in fact still a citizen.

Even if Congress had granted the Treasury the power to decide, without any consultation or judiciary process, who is and is not a risk to American safety, it is blatantly unconstitutional to deny American citizens the right to have a lawyer, and “to deny American lawyers the right to freely represent clients without first obtaining a permission slip from Executive Branch officials.” On its most basic level, the decision reeks of illogic.

Even if denying American citizens deemed terrorists the right to an attorney can somehow be justified, what factors determine who is a “global terrorist”? And why isn’t it public knowledge? We should never stop asking these questions. As American people, we need to be concerned about our collective rights.

Government can make troubling decisions, and at times the most drastic changes in our country’s infrastructure happen under our nose and behind our backs.

What it comes down to — what it has always been about — is citizen-to-citizen awareness.

We need to make a conscious effort to not brand any Muslim with a “funny” last name a “terrorist.” Citizens should exercise their right to criticize the powers that be. The purported risk is that global terrorists threaten the American way of life. But abandoning our rights in times of crisis is a far greater risk.