Unlimited Government Overseas: Washington Unsuccessfully On American Anwar al-Awlaki

17 January 2011

By Jacob G. Hornberger

Americans who travel overseas do so at their own risk. That principle used to apply only to foreign governments but now it also applies to the U.S. government, which is exercising unlimited powers against Americans and others while operating within foreign countries.

We already know about the omnipotent power of the U.S. military and the CIA to deprive Americans of due process of law and trial by jury and to torture and assassinate Americans who are suspected of being terrorists. So far, the military has wielded the denial-of-due process power and the denial-of-trial-by-jury power as well as the torture power on an American here at home (i.e., Jose Padilla) and has wielded the assassination power, so far unsuccessfully, on an American overseas (i.e., Anwar al-Awlaki).

The case of an American teenager, 19-year-old Gulet Mohamed of Alexandria, Virginia, is demonstrating that federal officials are exercising other dictatorial powers on Americans who travel overseas. Mohamed was recently detained in Kuwait, where he says that FBI agents subjected him to several hours of increasingly hostile interrogation. Even after Mohamed asked for the services of an attorney, the agents continued interrogating him. The interrogation, Mohamed says, culminated in his being severely beaten and deprived of sleep. Mohamed said that Kuwaiti officials finally intervened and ended the U.S. interrogation.

So, does Mohamed now plan on returning home? Well, he'd like to, but he is having a hard time doing so. Even though he is an American citizen, he can't take a flight home. Why? Because the feds have placed him on their "no-fly" list, which prohibits him from flying home, no matter how many body scanners and pat-downs he's willing to undergo.

When the Constitution was proposed, many Americans opposed it. They were concerned that the federal government that the Constitution was calling into existence would end up exercising the types of dictatorial powers that the British government had exercised on the British people, especially those living in the British colonies in America.

Proponents of the Constitution responded that people didn't need to be concerned because the Constitution expressly set forth the limited powers that federal officials would be permitted to exercise. Since such enumerated powers didn't include the types of dictatorial powers that the British government had exercised, federal officials would never be able to exercise them.

Americans were still not convinced. As a condition for approving the Constitution, they demanded passage of the Bill of Rights, which expressly set forth specific rights and guarantees that the federals would not be permitted to infringe upon. Such rights had become recognized over centuries of resistance by British citizens against the tyranny of their own government. The Fifth Amendment prohibits the feds from depriving a person of life, liberty, and property without due process of law. The Ninth Amendment pointed out that the rights and guarantees named in the Bill of Rights were not all-inclusive; freedom of travel, a long-recognized natural, God-given right, is a good example.

Some people today might argue that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are antiquated and outmoded. We can trust federal officials to do the right thing, statists say. Yet, when we see how U.S. officials operate overseas without constitutional restraints, we have to thank our lucky stars for the wisdom of our American ancestors. As bad as things are here at home with respect to liberty, imagine how much worse they would be if U.S. officials were able to exercise the same unlimited, dictatorial powers at home that they are wielding on Americans and others overseas.

Despite his detention, harsh interrogation, and infringement on his freedom to travel at the hands of his own government operating without constitutional restraint overseas, perhaps American Gulet Mohamed should count himself fortunate. At least they haven't assassinated him.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.



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