I admit to having mixed feelings about the assassination of al-Awlaki. From the WikiPedi article:
On September 30, 2011, in northern Yemen’s al-Jawf province, two Predator drones fired Hellfire missiles at a vehicle containing al-Awlaki and three other suspected al-Qaeda members. A witness said the group had stopped to eat breakfast while traveling to Ma’rib Governorate. A Predator drone was spotted by the group, which then tried to flee in the vehicle. According to U.S. sources, the strike was carried out by Joint Special Operations Command, under the direction of the CIA. U.S. President Barack Obama said:
The death of Awlaki is a major blow to Al-Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate. He took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans … and he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda. [The strike] is further proof that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world.
I tend to agree with the commentary quoted from Josh Marshall, a little further below. al-Awlaki was in essence acting in a capacity of war against the United States. We don’t apply the same legal standards to enemy soldiers in the field as we (used) to apply to our civilian population.
There are Constitutional scholars who have been decrying our march away from the Rule of Law and the restraint on actions by those in power provided by the Constitution for years, experts that I highly respect, who totally disagree with me on this, foremost among them Glenn Greenwald. He sums it up in the title of his commentary on this event: The Due-Process-Free Assassination of U.S. Citizens Is Now Reality.
What’s most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar (“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What’s most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government’s new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government. Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President’s ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki — including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry’s execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists: criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed.
From an authoritarian perspective, that’s the genius of America’s political culture. It not only finds ways to obliterate the most basic individual liberties designed to safeguard citizens from consummate abuses of power (such as extinguishing the lives of citizens without due process). It actually gets its citizens to stand up and clap and even celebrate the destruction of those safeguards.
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has a different take on the killing.
So how is it exactly that a US President can order the extra-judicial killing of an American citizen? I agree. It’s a troubling thought. But I would approach it differently. Is it really possible that a US citizen can be operating abroad as a key leader of an international terrorist group, organizing and inspiring terrorist attacks within the US, and the US has no recourse other than to secure an arrest warrant and arrest him somewhere in the wilds of Yemen? That strikes me as preposterous.
The key in my mind is that al-Awlaki is or was essentially waging war against the United States from abroad.
Now, there’s a great deal we don’t know and probably won’t know. And that leaves open a great opportunity for abuse. There is for instance some controversy over whether al-Awlaki was simply inspiring terrorist attacks or whether he was operationally involved in them. I don’t think a US president should ever be allowed to do this within the United States or anywhere else where arrest is a credible option. I also think that in the case of targeting a US citizen, the President of the United States should need to personally authorize the decision. Someone has to take responsibility and be accountable.
The idea that his US citizenship mandates that he be handled through the US criminal justice system in every case, even the most extreme ones such as this, simply doesn’t make sense to me. So I just can’t credit that argument that targeting him is ‘illegal’.
But how do and can we know anymore that it stops there? With someone who is truly an ‘enemy of the state’ at least in the classic definition of having taken up arms in an act of war against the state?
News has been trickling out for months about the secret interpretations by the government of the so-called “Patriot Act” (one of the greatest misnomers since the Alien and Sedition Acts).
The recent dramatic expansion of intelligence collection at the federal, state and local level raises profound civil liberties concerns regarding freedoms and protections we have long taken for granted. If people generally appear unaware of “change in the air,” a large part of the reason is the unparalleled resort to secrecy used by the government to keep its actions from public scrutiny. According to the new American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report, “Drastic Measures Required,” under President Obama (who had vowed to create “an unprecedented level of openness in Government” when he first took office), there were no fewer than 76,795,945 decisions made to classify information in 2010 – eight times the number made in 2001.
There are layers of secrecy that cannot even be penetrated by most members of Congress. In the recent debate over the re-authorization of three sections of the USA Patriot Act with sunset provisions, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who is a member of the Joint Intelligence Committee, declared in the Senate in May 2011 that there was a secret interpretation of Patriot Act powers that he could not even tell them about without disclosing classified information.  “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry,” said Wyden. The determination of the Obama administration to imitate its predecessor and maintain a wall of secrecy around anything that could be connected (however tenuously) with “national security” is evident in the zeal with which it has pursued whistleblowers and its use of the state secrets privilege in judicial proceedings, including in the recent court challenge to the FBI use of the informant Craig Monteilh to spy on mosques in Orange County, California.
This week, news has leaked out regarding the existence of a secret panel of government officials who are now tasked with issuing kill orders, including on American citizens, with absolutely no real judicial review or due process.
Sadly, this is just one more sign of the total collapse of the Constitutional framework and rule of law in this nation. It seems clear that those who control the reigns of political power in this nation truly no longer feel themselves constrained at all, in any way, by the law. The Rule of Law is pretty much dead. And we as a nation are no longer crawling, or walking, instead, we are running as hard as we can in the direction of a total police state. Full time electronic surveillance and review of all activities of all citizens, down to what books they are reading from the public library, or buying in bookstores, is not enough. It appears that we have entered the realm when the most paranoid and fanciful fictions, such as the classic Gene Hackman film Enemy of the State is the reality we live in.
American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions, according to officials.
There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council, several current and former officials said. Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.
The panel was behind the decision to add Awlaki, a U.S.-born militant preacher with alleged al Qaeda connections, to the target list. He was killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen late last month.
The role of the president in ordering or ratifying a decision to target a citizen is fuzzy. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to discuss anything about the process.
They confirmed that lawyers, including those in the Justice Department, were consulted before Awlaki’s name was added to the target list.
Given the role of lawyers in the Bush / Cheney administration, who simply demolished the law and ignored it in order to institute a regime of warrantless spying on Americans, secret rendition to secret prisons all over the globe, and the institution of physical as well as mental torture of prisoners of war held by Americans, that line about lawyers having been consulted does not console me very much.