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Saturday, June 14, 2014

President Obama and the Battered-Wife Syndrome

     If Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical Muslim cleric accused of playing a role in a failed plot to bomb two cargo planes in 2010 had been shot in the United States by a police officer instead of being taken out by a drone in Yeman, would the shooting, under standard deadly force law, be legally justified? Under the legal rationale that al-Awlaki, at the time of his death, had not posed an imminent threat to anyone, probably not. Could he have been taken into custody without the use of deadly force? We'll never know. Did the government have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that al-Awlaki was a terrorist? We'll never know because al-Awlaki didn't get his day in court, a right given to all American citizens under the U.S. Constitution.

     So, if al-Awlaki wasn't killed in self-defense, or in the field of battle, how could his killing be legally justified? The only way I can think of is pursuant to the battered-wife syndrome which a few juries have recently equated with self-defense, even though the defendant, at the time of the homicidal act, wasn't under an imminent risk of serious bodily injury or death. These defendants were acquitted of murder because of what their allegedly abusive husbands may have done to them in the future. So President Obama, in the role of the mastermind in a murder-for-hire trial, could argue that he had ordered al-Awlaki's hit to prevent him from commiting future violence against America.

     As one who is not comfortable with killing people in cold-blood for acts they may or may not commit in the future, I'm not a big fan of the battered-wife syndrome. And I'm uneasy, to say the least, about the way President Obama dispatched this American accused of terrorism. If the al-Awlaki killing isn't a case of unjustified murder-for-hire, what is? (See: "Self-Defense or Premeditated Murder?" October 9, 2011)

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