Kevin D. Williamson talks sense at The Corner, repudiating President Obama’s imprudent assertion of executive power:
I hate to play the squish, but am I the only one who is just a little bit queasy over the fact that the president of the United States is authorizing the assassination of American citizens? Andy writes that this is “obviously the right call.” I might be persuaded that this is, in fact, the right call. But obviously? No hesitation there? It seems to me that the fact of U.S. citizenship ought to be a bright line on the political map.
Surely there has to be some operational constraint on the executive when it comes to the killing of U.S. citizens. It is not impossible to imagine a president who, for instance, sincerely believes that Andy McCarthy is undermining the Justice Department’s ability to prosecute the war on terror on the legal front. A government that can kill its citizens can shut them up, no? I ask this not as a legal question, but as a moral and political question: How is it that a government that can assassinate Citizen Awlaki is unable to censor Citizen McCarthy, or drop him in an oubliette? Practically every journalist of any consequence in Washington has illegally handled a piece of classified information. Can the president have them assassinated in the name of national security? Under the Awlaki standard, why not?
Odious as Awlaki is, this seems to me to be setting an awful and reckless precedent. Consider how “interstate commerce” has been redefined over time to cover that which is neither interstate nor commerce, for the sake of political expediency. It is easy to imagine “national security” being treated the same way, particularly in an open-ended conflict against a loosely defined enemy. And we aren’t assassinating U.S. citizens under the rubric of interstate commerce.
I’ve been raising this point too, and I’ve yet to get a satisfactory answer.
Mr. McCarthy is addressing the same subject today, and for once I agree with a lot of what he has to say:
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.
Of course, Mr. McCarthy agrees that individuals are proven threats who can be summarily killed merely because the president says so. Indeed, he somehow simultaneously believes that President Obama should have the unchecked power to kill American citizens, that he is a closet radical with jihadist sympathies, and that he is rightly ordering the assassination of an American jihadist. Incoherent as this is, the most troubling thing is that Obama apparently agrees with the part of this warped worldview that is most corrosive to liberty and limited government. When the Cheney wing of the Republican Party is endorsing your actions on national security, it’s a good sign you’re exercising dangerous amounts of unchecked power.
Will liberals go along with this?