Writing in National Review, Kevin Williamson offers up a pretty solid case for what strikes me as a pretty obviously bad policy:
The Awlaki case speaks to something even more fundamental than law: Decent nations do not permit their governments to assassinate their own citizens. I am willing to give the intelligence community, the covert-operations guys, and the military proper a pretty free hand when it comes to dealing with dispersed terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates. But citizenship, even when applied to a Grade-A certified rat like Awlaki, presents an important demarcation, a bright-line distinction in our politics.
If Awlaki were to be killed on a battlefield, I’d shed no tears. But ordering the premeditated, extrajudicial killing of an American citizen in Yemen or Pakistan is no different from ordering the premeditated, extrajudicial killing of an American citizen in New York or Washington or Topeka — American citizens are American citizens, wherever they go. I’m an old-fashioned limited-government guy, and I am not willing to grant Washington the power to assassinate U.S. citizens, even rotten ones.
This is pretty much my take on this as well. It’s one thing to kill Awlaki on the battle-field, quite another to order his assassination. Assassination is a tricky enough game when it comes to non-American enemies. Worse, if we open the flood-gates to government-sanctioned assassination of US citizens abroad, what’s to stop us from ordering killings of US citizens here at home on our soil? These concessions to the security state are always made with reasonable-sounding intentions, but they point the way to tyranny. Plain and simple.
Radley Balko says it well:
If there’s more tyrannical power a president could possibly claim than the power to execute the citizens of his country at his sole discretion, with no oversight, no due process, and no ability for anyone to question the execution even after the fact . . . I can’t think of it.
This is horrifying.
This in response to a Glenn Greenwald post noting the Obama administration’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit challenging its right to assassinate Awlaki on the basis of ‘state secrets’:
In response to the lawsuit filed by Anwar Awlaki’s father asking a court to enjoin the President from assassinating his son, a U.S. citizen, without any due process, the administration late last night, according to The Washington Post, filed a briefasking the court to dismiss the lawsuit without hearing the merits of the claims. That’s not surprising: both the Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly insisted that their secret conduct is legal but nonetheless urge courts not to even rule on its legality. But what’s most notable here is that one of the arguments the Obama DOJ raises to demand dismissal of this lawsuit is “state secrets”: in other words, not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are “state secrets,” and thus no court may adjudicate their legality.
Scary stuff. Horrifying, really, as Balko notes. Nothing short of tyranny.
Far from the much-anticipated departure from Bush-era policies such as secret prisons and the torture of suspected terrorists, Obama is upping the security-state ante, centering even more power in the executive branch. Civil libertarians, limited-government conservatives, and liberals alike should be appalled by this administration’s arrogance and disrespect for the basic civil protections afforded American citizens. I’d say vote the bums out, but I’m a cynic. I’m afraid the next bums will be no better than these, perhaps worse even.
If a not-really-all-that-hawkish president like Barack Obama is taking these steps, I shudder to think what the next pro-war president will do, and how they will justify their stripping away of American liberty at the ugly altar of the security state.