Reuters has the short story (via the Washington Post) here.
This is obviously the right call. We are at war against al Qaeda under an authorization from Congress. Anwar al-Awlaki, a purportedly American-born Islamic cleric, who is now operating in Yemen, ministered to the 9/11 hijackers, inspired the Ft. Hood assassin, probably directed the would-be Christmas bomber, and is believed to be orchestrating and recruiting for violent jihad operations against the United States. The president is the commander-in-chief with primacy on questions regarding the conduct of war. Even if we were to accept for argument’s sake that at issue is a legal rather than a political judgment, Supreme Court precedent (the World War II era Quirin case and the 2004 Hamdi decision) hold that American citizens who fight for the enemy in wartime may be treated as enemy combatants, just like aliens.
The only reason for calling attention to Obama’s targeting of Awlaki is its demonstration of the illogic of the Left’s position on treatment of the enemy. According to the report, a U.S. official told Reuters that “Awlaki is a proven threat,” and therefore someone who could properly be targeted for killing. But by leftist standards — including those urged by Attorney General Holder when he was in private practice filing briefs in support of American-born “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla — Awlaki is most certainly not a proven threat. He has not been convicted in a court of law.
So here is the Obama Left’s position. If an alien enemy combatant, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mass-murders 3000 Americans and is then captured outside the U.S. in wartime, we need to bring him to the United States and give him a civilian trial with all attendant due process rights. If an alien enemy combatant is sending emails from outside the U.S. to an al Qaeda cell inside the U.S., the commander-in-chief needs a judge’s permission (on a showing of probable cause) to intercept those communications. If an American citizen terrorist outside the United States — say, Awlaki in Yemen — is calling or emailing the United States (or anyplace else), the commander-in-chief needs a judge’s permission to intercept those communications. If we capture an alien enemy combatant conducting war operations against the U.S. overseas, we should give him Miranda warnings, a judicial right to challenge his detention as a war prisoner, and (quite likely) a civilian trial. But, if the commander-in-chief decides to short-circuit the whole menu of civil rights by killing an American citizen, that’s fine — no due process, no interference by a judge, no Miranda, no nothing. He is a proven threat because … the president says so.
That’s OK with me — I think the flaws in the equation are the various lawfare devices by which we now tie the commander-in-chief’s hands with legal processes. War is not supposed to be litigation. It’s not about rights for the enemy but rather victory for the American people. But why do I think the Left will suddenly be OK with (or, at least, muted in its criticism of) targeted assassination because the president’s name is now Obama rather than Bush?