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From Troy Davis to Anwar Al-Awlaki

2011 September 21

The legal showdown over the execution of Troy Davis today in Georgia has been both extremely engrossing and extremely sad. With any luck, Davis’ case may become a rallying point for greater opposition to capital punishment.

However, the sheer amount of political, legal and symbolic energy spent over the Davis case, and particularly the last-minute appeal to the Supreme Court, actually brought to my mind an individual who also faces execution but receives very little attention and has no ability to access this sort of legal review: Anwar Al-Awlaki.

Al-Awlaki is, of course, an American citizen whom President Obama has decreed should be executed based on the allegation that Al-Awlaki’s rhetoric aids terrorists.  Al-Awlaki has not been convicted of any crime, has had no appeal, and can not very well seek a “stay” of the decree that he should be executed. Amy Goodman will not be giving a minute-by-minute account of the runup to Al-Awlaki’s execution.  Al Sharpton will not be providing commentary, particularly since Sharpton has said he won’t criticize Obama’s policies.

Perhaps it’s just apples and oranges, and one shouldn’t get too exercised about the sharp contrast between the process that was “due” to Troy Davis (however inadequate one might believe it to have been) and the process, or lack thereof, “due” to Al-Awlaki and other persons caught in the campaign against alleged terrorists, such as the individuals who continue to be detained, without charge, in Guantanamo.  But the rights to legal redress, which we emphasize so fiercely in Davis’ case, ostensibly have value because they are fundamental values of our society. Whatever one thinks of the Davis case, perhaps it is fair to say that the state should not be claiming a right to execute people with even less attention to due process.

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