Kevin would have a stronger case if Awlaki had been killed in the U.S. But he was in Yemen — as an avowed member of al-Qaeda, a foreign enemy our nation is at war with under Congress’s authorization of military force. There already is precedent for conducting military operations against Americans under those circumstances, most recently the Supremes’ 2004 Hamdi ruling.
The precedent that would be radical is the one Kevin seems to be arguing for, namely, that American citizens carry the protections of the Constitution wherever in the world they go, and however hostile their stance toward the U.S., even in wartime. How far do we take that precedent? Would we have needed an arrest warrant to capture Awlaki? A search warrant to raid his hideout in Yemen? Would he need to be brought to the nearest available magistrate, assigned counsel, and advised of the charges against him? Does he get Miranda warnings? Does it matter the the writ of American courts and the authority of American law-enforcement agents do not apply in Yemen? Does it matter that Congress has authorized military operations and, therefore, that the laws of war apply?
I think you can see Awlaki as an enemy combatant or as a criminal defendant, but you have to follow through with the logic and consequences of either choice. In my mind, he’s an enemy combatant. I’d have defended the use of force against him if it had happened in New York — though I’d have to be prepared to answer the same sort of tough questions I think Kevin has to answer regarding Yemen. But I don’t think the killing of Awlaki in Yemen is a tough call. He was one of the enemy’s most effective operatives, and I salute our guys for getting him before he got more of us.