Direct from the New York Times last week:
The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said [last] Tuesday.
Mr. Awlaki has been the focus of intense scrutiny since he was linked to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November, and then to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25.
As a general principle, international law permits the use of lethal force against individuals and groups that pose an imminent threat to a country, and officials said that was the standard used in adding names to the list of targets. In addition, Congress approved the use of military force against Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. People on the target list are considered to be military enemies of the United States and therefore not subject to the ban on political assassination first approved by President Gerald R. Ford.
Most readers will be hearing about this for the first time because there has largely been a deafening silence in the news. But credit must be given where it is due. Keith Olbermann, usually an Obama loyalist, has harshly criticized the president for ordering the assassination without trial and has been the only relatively mainstream media personality to even breach the subject.
Glenn Greenwald opines over at Salon:
What’s most striking about all of this is that George W. Bush’s decision merely to eavesdrop on American citizens without oversight, or to detain without due process Americans such as Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, provoked years of vehement, vocal and intense complaints from Democrats and progressives.
All of that was disparaged as Bush claiming the powers of a King, a vicious attack on the Constitution, a violation of Our Values, the trampling on the Rule of Law. Yet here you have Barack Obama not merely eavesdropping on or detaining Americans without oversight, but ordering them killed with no oversight and no due process of any kind.
And the reaction among leading Democrats and progressives is largely non-existent, which is why Olbermann’s extensive coverage of it is important. Just imagine what the reaction would have been among progressive editorial pages, liberal opinion-makers and Democratic politicians if this story had been about George Bush and Dick Cheney targeting American citizens for due-process-free and oversight-less CIA assassinations.
I guess it’s a good thing for the Obama Administration that Olbermann had long ago driven away any audience that might have seen his extensive coverage.
The arguments for killing this bum Awlaki are based on several flawed assumptions: that killing people like him actually prevents attacks; that the people in Obama’s administration know which people need to be killed; and that the possibilities for abuse of this power are small enough that they don’t cancel out any gains in security.
“But the American people are not going to sit around and allow themselves to be targeted and killed in the name of civil liberties!” I can hear it now.
The American people won’t stand for a lot of things that need to be done – ending the drug war, balancing the budget, cutting back on entitlements – but that should not mean a free pass for anything the president can get over on us.
The proper legal method of dealing with Awlaki is to capture him, extradite him to America and charge him with treason for levying war against the US and giving aid and comfort to our enemies.
There is just one problem, war was never properly declared by Congress. No war, no treason.
However I understand why Obama has taken the current route. His policies are precisely incentivized by the over-reaction to the Bush surveillance, detention, and interrogation policies. The easiest thing to do with the suspected bad guys is to kill them instead of spying on them or capturing them and then enduring the political fallout from however they are treated.
If Awlaki is assassinated tomorrow I won’t feel the least bit bad for him as he’s a bad guy. I just happen to be more concerned about how this executive action will be abused in the future.