With a Wimper

I simply cannot believe that the President of the US just ordered an American citizen killed, without trial or due process, and the country just yawns.  And in some cases, cheered.  Are we really going to make the Fifth Amendment, along with the Fourth, the Ninth, and the Tenth, another "just kidding" passage?  Its amazing that the same kids that marched  against Nixon's abuse of power have decided this is perfectly OK.

I suppose I expect Republicans to pile on for this kind of security-state garbage, but an awful lot of Democrats are sitting on their hands as well, just because it was their guy in the Oval office pulling the trigger.  Kudos to a few souls on the left like Glenn Greenwald and Kevin Drum who, however subdued in comparison to their reaction had it been Bush, called out their party's leader for this bit of horror.  Greenwald makes the point to fellow Lefties - how would you feel if Rick Perry or Michelle Bachman had this power?

This latter is a good test I ask folks all the time.  Those who advocate for statist powers generally imagine folks like themselves wielding these powers.  But how realistic is that in a Democracy where power shifts every 8-10 years or so?  I ask folks all the time to picture their worst political enemy, and then imagine that person with the power they advocate.


  1. Captain Obviousness:

    Assassinating a US citizen without any due process whatsoever is now an applause line. Have the terrorists won yet?

  2. Rick Caird:

    This is a difficult call. If it were likely we could have caught him and brought him back for trial, that would be one thing. But, that seemed very unlikely. Here is a guy who was actively involved in attacking the US while managing to evade the government in a foreign country. Clearly, he was guilty of treason and that is punishable by death. I am against "in abstentia" trials.

    If he had given up his US citizenship (maybe he didn't have the $450), then there would have been no debate. He would have been an illegal combatant just as Bin Laden. It seems wrong to treat him differently than we treated Bil Laden just because he was a US citizen but asserted no right of citizenship while attacking us from a foreign land.

    There are two areas that should be cleared up. The first is why the legal reasoning and the opinion allowing this remain secret and what are the limits of the President's powers in this area.

  3. Captain Obviousness:


    That to me is purely "ends justify the means" reasoning. Nothing is changed if the President can revoke citizenship by executive order. That is way, way too much power for the executive to have. "I declare that John Doe is a threat to America. Therefore he is no longer a citizen. Predator drone incoming." Applause.

    An in absentia trial would be a hell of a lot better than no trial, no evidence that can be cross-examined, no explanation of how it is legal, etc.

    I submit that there are a lot of US citizens working for the cartels in Mexico and committing unspeakable acts of violence. Predator drone incoming for these people too?

  4. A Friend:

    I think this is a feather in the cap of Obama's Nobel peace prize! Isn't he quite the path-breaker, assassinating his own citizens! Oh, wait, Arafat did that too. Drats.

  5. Stan:

    Wasn't al-Awlaki killed along with other AQ members? I agree that assassinating citizens is a blatant abuse of power, but what if the issue were framed differently? If a drone attack on typical AQ members is legal, then the death of al-Awlaki could have been argued to be collateral damage, perhaps even if he was known to be among the likely casualties. Just a thought. Then again, having al-Awlaki on a hit-list makes such a defense untenable.

  6. rtstephenson:

    So, Captain, in all seriousness what does one do about an al-Awlaki? Send in the FBI? Uh no. CIA snatch? uh no, that's illegal too. Get the Yemenis to bag him. yeah ;-) What is left, as I understand what you seem to be implying, is let him to continue to levy war against the United States. What does he have to do to be considered the enemy and become a legitimate target?

  7. John David Galt:

    This is exactly why the Framers wrote the definition of treason into the Constitution, along with a ban on bills of attainder. Though now that we've already become a nation that holds prisoners under lettres de cachet, I guess we're now down to arguing over the price.

  8. Voolfie:

    OK, so this Awlaki guy - through his words and deeds - declares war on the U.S.A. By such words and deeds he renders himself an enemy combatant and while engaged in acts of war against the U.S. he gets killed by same.

    I'm sorry, but I don't see the problem here. What am I missing?


  9. GoneWithTheWind:

    War is a suspension of the rules/laws. Would you prefer that the terrorist go free to kill more Americans?

  10. astonerii:

    Warren on the right side of this one. I got seriously attacked for saying that without due process the government cannot target citizens for death.

    Everyone claims he is a traitor, well then convict him en abstantia. Some due process! There are laws in the constitution for dealing with traitors. Follow them.

    Everyone claims he is a battlefeild leader, so it is just simply wa war decision. Again, citizen, where is the conviction? He was not on a battlefeild. He was in a country where we have no troops stationed.

    Then the go to, he said himself he gave up his citizenship. But where is the record of the government accepting that and listing him as having given up his citizenship? There are laws in the constitution that deal with stripping citizenship from a citizen. Use them.

  11. astonerii:

    War is a suspension of the rules/laws. Would you prefer that the terrorist go free to kill more Americans?"

    The government has had 9 years since Awlaki left the nation. There was ample time to make laws and rules to follow in order to get to this end outcome. Laws and rules that we citizens could haves some control over and knowledge of, as a representative government, we got no representation on this matter. That is what is at issue, not whether Awlaki should have been killed, but under what rules and laws, such as to defend the rest of us from government doing the same to us because we disagree with the executive's world view. We do not know the limit of this power.

  12. Don:

    I gotta say, I'm very uncomfortable with this, but the fact that he was actively working AS an enemy combatant (not just rendering aid and comfort, but actively working in the leadership of a declared enemy of the US) puts a target on his back, regardless of his citizenship. I think the Framers would agree with this concept because they faced this situation, and dealt with it the same way. Not all the Red Coats came here in boats, a lot of them where neighbors, and they got the business end of the Minute Men's long rifles, York or New York, didn't matter.

    My opinion would be different if we sent in a hit-team to kill him in place with cooperating law enforcement like Paris (France or Texas).

    American's working with the cartels are a different matter, as the cartels are not declared enemies of the US (if anything, they depend on the US Government's inept handling of the "War on Drugs" and insane drug laws for their livelihood).

    All that being said, it's a sad day and nothing to celebrate that we even find ourselves in this situation. Perhaps if we stopped meddling in the affairs of foreign governments, we'd find ourselves in this situation far less.

    As Dennis Miller says, "I don't know, I may be wrong."

  13. astonerii:

    You do realize that we did not have a constitution or the first ten amendments when we were fighting the Red Coats?

    Think about my posts above about the fact that there are laws that could have been used to make this action by our government legal, but instead, the government ignored the constitution the Founders created in order to kill a citizen that the government is a representative of. They had 9 years from the time he left the country to the time he was killed to go through the motions of making him a non citizen and thus no longer protected through the Constitution of the United States of America. This is a precedent, one that is not good for the health of our nation long term. 9 years to take the steps required to make the killing legal, or just doing it outside the law.

  14. delurking:

    So, let's say the year is 1942, and a US citizen is fighting for the German army. He appears in an SS uniform on television, giving speeches in support of the Nazi cause, and is known to have ordered various attacks against US forces. Is the president authorized to send a military team to kill him?
    Let's say the year is 1968, and a US citizen is fighting for the Vietcong. He appears in a Vietcong "uniform", and is seen on television exhorting the southern Vietnamese to rise up against the US occupiers and is known to have planned attacks on US forces and Southern Vietnamese civilians. Is the president authorized to send a military team to kill him?
    Let's say the year is 2011, and a US citizen is fighting for Al Qaeda...

    There is obviously a continuum between the 1st case I pose and the Mexican drug cartel examples posed above. The question of where the line is drawn is debatable. Clearly the president has the authority to target a member of a foreign military at war with the US, even if the member is a US citizen. How about a Vietcong member though? There was no declared war, and there was a debate about whether they were an army or an insurgency. How about Al-Qaeda? If you are going to posit that the president does not have the authority to target an Al-Qaeda member, please tell us how you think the line should be drawn and who should draw it.

  15. Mark:

    American citizenship does not protect you in a time of war. When you side with the enemy at war with the United States there is simply no due process required. US citizens fought with the Germans in WWII. US citizens have fought with other enemies. And, most significantly, US citizens fought each other in a civil war. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln did not give a trial in abstentia to all of the rebels? This is a ridiculous issue and frankly, it is a little bit ignorant to make the "due process" claim.

  16. LowcountryJoe:

    My thought isn't going to be popular here but I view al-Awlaki just the same as I would somebody, without provocation, aiming a loaded gun at me. Had I crossed paths with him -- knowing who he was, where his allegiances were, and what his long-ranges plans and aims are -- I would have shot his ass dead. I would have claimed self-defense, too. Does anyone think I would have been convicted by a jury of my peers? I'm glad the son-of-a-bitch is dead but not happy about the power grab. It's an inconsistent position, I realize this, but somehow I'm okay with it.

  17. Scott from Ohio:

    When an American citizen takes up arms against other Americans, the government has the right to use lethal force to prevent the deaths of innocents. Just the other day near Seattle, police shot and killed a man who was shooting up a local street and walking towards a high school. They have no idea why he did it, because they never got close enough to ask. They saw an immediate threat and eliminated that threat. They were absolutely right to do so. I don't think the al Awlaki case is any different.

  18. Fred Z:

    All of you pro-kill commenters are relying on the 'fact' of al-Awlaki's terrorist acts and acts of war.

    As reported to you by the main stream media and the Democrat/Obama administration.

    Well that's enough evidence for me. I'm glad Obama killed that bastard and hope he kills all the others with the same onerous evidence against them: George Bush, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, etc.: all obvious terrorists and war criminals.

  19. samsam von virginia:

    The difficulty is that when the Government fails to make a convincing case in public, John Q. Public's belief that Gov't agents are out to kill him pass from "paranoid delusion" to "rational belief". Once we arrive at that point, citizens taking action against Gov't agents isn't wacko behavior, but self defense. We're seeing in Mexico the result of in-effective law enforcement; we need to ensure law enforcement (including military, because there is blurring here) in the US retains the trust of US citizens and remains effective in order for our society to remain stable. Rouge agents, rogue policies, rouge governments are as destructive as terrorists.

  20. samsam von virginia:

    Eh, rouge governments may be bad, but its the rogue ones I'm worried about.

  21. Capn Rusty:

    The secret dossiers will grow larger. The drones will get smaller and more lethal. Geography will make no difference. A threat to The Leader is a threat to The Nation.

  22. Tom Kirkendall:

    "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster." - Friedrich Nietzsche

  23. andre:

    "Are we really going to make the Fifth Amendment, along with the Fourth, the Ninth, and the Tenth, another “just kidding” passage?"

    What do you mean "GOING to"? About the only thing left is the quartering of soldiers, and that is most likely due solely to that not having been necessary. Yet.

    "Those who advocate for statist powers generally imagine folks like themselves wielding these powers"

    Those who advocate (generally the left) tend to imagine that they will get rid of any opposition (generally the libertarian wing of the right), or at the very least render them impotent, effectively preventing them from ever attaining any power. They always feel that if given 8-10 years, they can establish themselves as the eternal power.

  24. Voolfie:

    In my opinion, the fact that we're wringing our hands about this - even a little bit - is proof that our constitutionally enshrined safeguards are perfectly secure and in full force and vigor. This was a one-off. Let's just move on. Any President can order the death of anyone he wants. The question is: who will obey him and under what circumstances? The circumstances of the instant case are, I assert, unique. I am not abnormally concerned. -Voolfie

  25. Don:


    You are correct, and yes I was aware of that. As I said it troubles me, a great deal, but I cannot quite condemn it as he was actively engaged in war on the US. If he were in a situation where it was practical to snatch him, I'd feel different, but from all I hear, it was a go/no go decision in hostile territory (which is most of the middle east these days) and I cannot condemn the decision to take him out. If he were a citizen of Saudi Arabia, there would be no hesitation, and as he was ACTING as a citizen of a foreign power, making war on the US, I have hard time believing we should treat him differently.

    As I said, I may (and probably am) wrong on this one. It will take more cogitating.

  26. Gil:

    I'm with Voolfie - this guy decide to become an enemy combatant so he was fair game. There's no legal right for citizens to declare war on their government. They're traitors until they win, if they can win, just as if George Washington had been captured then he'd be up for high treason against the Crown and would have hung, drawn and quartered.

  27. MikeinAppalachia:

    Given sufficient power, there will be no shift of it in any subsequent time-frame. That's the hope of those currently in power and the fear of the rest. Evidently, the risk of the use of the same power by others in the future is a risk the progressive and hard left is willing to take.

  28. CTD:

    One nice (?) thing about the Obama presidency is that it has drawn a VERY bright line between people who actually cherish civil liberties and constraints on government power and those partisan automatons who only pretend to when they see an advantage to be gained for their "team." It's now crystal clear to me that virtually the entire Bush-era "anti-war" movement outside of libertarians and pacifists consisted of the latter.

  29. Brian Dunbar:

    War is a suspension of the rules/laws.

    No, it's not. Or at least not now, it isn't. There are rules. And laws. The troops are expected to follow them. There are stiff consequences if they don't.

    This isn't a situation where we have to discard all of our civilized baggage and become utterly ruthless, massacre entire peoples before they massacre us.

    This is an entire civilization against a handful of barbarians. We can win, and keep our culture.

  30. astonerii:

    WWII, Vietnam, Drug Cartels and Awlaki.

    Targeting the American specifically for assassination requires due diligence on the part of the government in all of these situations. There should be some evidence presented, and a finding that can be challenged before they take action. if it was an emergency ticking time bomb situation, and after action report verifying the information.

    none of this is known to have happened with Awlaki. It is just Rule of Man as opposed to Rule of Law. I am not comfortable enough to trust another man to rule over me. That is why I cherish the United States of America as a rule of law nation.

  31. Jim Collins:

    I for one am not sorry to see him dead, but, some good points are made here. Delurking makes some very good ones. I am pretty sure that during WWII Congress passed and Roosevelt signed a decree that allowed US citizens in enemy uniform to be killed. I'd have to look to find out specifically what was passed, I think it was originally about the Japanese paranoia, but included Germans and Italians.

    Delurking's point about Vietnam made me wonder about Jane Fonda. I recall a photo of her with a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun crew, if the US had information of her presence, would a strike on that gun have been wrong?

    Warren, what do you think should have been done?

  32. Henry Bowman:

    This is, or should be, a matter for serious national discussion. According to Alan Dershowitz, the ACLU has demanded, effectively, that such actions only be conducted when a "kill warrant" has been issued. Separately, Dershowitz has noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has avoided the issue entirely, I think mostly by noting that it involves foreign policy, which seems to me to be a cop-out, as military law presumably falls under the Court's jurisdiction. Dershowitz also notes (again, in a speech, not in the linked article) that the only court to rule on the sort of issue has been the Israeli Supreme Court, which stipulated very specific conditions under which such killings could take place. Dershowitz believes that the Al-Awlaki killings would have been justified under Israeli law, by the way.

    One of the problems with not having written criteria by which such targeted killings could be justified is that it permits the Chief Executive (or, worse, lower-ranking individuals) far too much personal discretion. Without specific, written criteria, I predict that the U.S. government will eventually target undesirable American citizens using drones on U.S. soil.

  33. astonerii:

    "Without specific, written criteria, I predict that the U.S. government will eventually target undesirable American citizens using drones on U.S. soil.
    October 4, 2011, 3:08 pm"

    The only drones I could see this working with would be gun drones. I doubt bomb drones would be something the government could hide. Bombs would leave evidence that government munitions were used. Maybe they will use standard caliber gun drones to shoot them up and make it look like ground fire and gang/drug related?

  34. gavin:

    back in 1916 my grandfather went to france to drive ambulance. in doing so he gave up U.S. citizenship.Now it was nice that we came in on the froggy side but my understanding is that you join a war on any side U.S. not in thats the rules.Flying tigers pre wwll,etc.

  35. ErisGuy:

    I sure am glad that in all that bombing of Japan during the 1940s, Tokyo Rose wasn't killed. Can you image the embarrassment on FDR's face when he learned that an American citizen had been killed? And we know the press thinks of Commandante Zero as FDR.

  36. ErisGuy:

    "I’m sorry, but I don’t see the problem here."

    The problem isn't the dead body or the bombing. It's that Obama is keeping a list of American citizens to kill. Being an American citizen isn't a magic talisman that renders the area around you indestructible. Had al-Awlaki been killed in an ordinary bombing, even one in which he was known to be there, no one sensible would have cared. It'd be like killing Tokyo Rose while fire bombing Tokyo. It's the list of Americans whom the President has declared worthy of death that's the problem.

    "Are we really going to make the Fifth Amendment, along with the Fourth, the Ninth, and the Tenth, another “just kidding” passage? "

    Well, yes. The Fifth can join the First and the "enumerated powers" clause. If the American people don't want to be free and don't want a Republic and don't want a government of limited powers (and they don't, and haven't for a long time), just which line of ink on an old piece of paper will stop them?

  37. Brian Dunbar:


    “Without specific, written criteria, I predict that the U.S. government will eventually target undesirable American citizens using drones on U.S. soil.
    October 4, 2011, 3:08 pm”

    The only drones I could see this working with would be gun drones.

    We suffer our police to arm themselves like a platoon of grunts and enter houses like they're in Iraq. What we'll see are drones owned by the FBI, the DEA, and they'll be blowing up drug dealers or other bad guys.

    They'll justify it because 'it's too dangerous to enter the house' and 'for our own good'. And people will stand up and cheer them on.

  38. Jim Collins:

    Didn't Philidelphia use a bomb on an apartment building back in the 80's? I seem to remember something about innocent people being killed in a fire that was started by the bomb.