By lex, on October 6th, 2011
I am, in the main, comfortable with the extrajudicial killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-born American citizen who coached Nidal Hasan through his killing spree in Fort Hood, amongst other crimes and misdemeanors. In an ideal world, he would have been isolated, seized, arrested, Mirandized and brought to justice. In the end, the result would very likely have been the same, apart from the vastly greater sums being expended in security, trial, appeals, not to mention care and feeding while on death row. (All of it spent for the opportunity to congratulate ourselves for our moral superiority and more refined social consciousness as contrasted to the terrorists we grapple with, if not the societies which gave them birth. Because that would require the ability to make distinctions between one thing and another, which many of us have lost the ability to do, sing kumbaya.)
But we don’t live in an ideal world.
In an ideal world, the editors of the New York Times would not have been attacked George W. Bush by for spying on the money laundering habits of terrorists overseas while remaining politely mum over Barack Obama’s decision to kill a US citizen overseas. (A foolish consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds, the Times is OK with overseas assassinations of US citizens so long as there is judicial review, even as it calls stateside application of the death penalty an “indefensible punishment” which is cannot be made to square with the Constitution. It turns out you can have it both ways.)
All that said, I do find myself a little queasy with the process by which candidates are nominated for death by lethal explosion:
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.
So a “secret panel” of “senior government officials” using no process defined by law “informs the president of its decisions”. That president’s role in approving those decisions is “fuzzy”, but at the output end people – American citizens – get got.
I don’t want to go all slippery slope here, but that just doesn’t quite seem to be in concert with the Constitution that I swore an oath to support and defend. I mean, just five years ago everyone got their panties in a twist because of NSA’s warrantless wire-tapping of overseas terrorists because it didn’t have a FISA judge’s review. Now unidentified “government officials” are not just spying on people, but morting them, with no controlling law, no judicial review and “fuzzy” oversight.
I just don’t know.