The CIA is now authorized to kill American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, a
top terrorism suspect currently in Yemen. al-Awlaki's situation has long been controversial: on the one hand, he has been indirectly linked to the Fort Hood shooting and to the attempted
Christmas Day airplane bombing. On the other hand, the idea that the executive branch can authorize the killing of an American citizen without court approval killing is legally and morally disturbing to many. A representative sample of first reactions:
- 'Unbelievably Orwellian and Tyrannical' Salon's Glenn Greenwald,
a constitutional lawyer, restates his opposition to this move, and
points out that it goes beyond any powers John Yoo
ever claimed for President Bush:
No due process is
accorded. No charges or trials are necessary. No evidence is offered,
nor any opportunity for him to deny these accusations ... Instead, in
Barack Obama's America, the way guilt is determined for American
citizens -- and a death penalty imposed -- is that the
President, like the King he thinks he is, secretly decrees someone's
guilt as a Terrorist. He then dispatches his aides to run to America's
newspapers -- cowardly hiding behind the shield of anonymity which
they're granted -- to proclaim that the Guilty One shall be killed on
sight because the Leader has decreed him to be a Terrorist.
- 'Obviously the Right Call' Explains the National Review's Andy McCarthy who--perhaps incorrectly--predicts "muted" liberal criticism now that it's Obama calling the shots:
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
- 'Obviously?' McCarthy's National Review colleague Kevin Williamson isn't so sure: "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." He wonders who else the administration could kill according to these rules: "Odious as Awlaki is, this seems to me to be setting an awful and reckless precedent." He declares himself "just a little bit queasy."
- Going by the Record "Confined to words," writes Juli Weiner
at Vanity Fair (she's referring to a counterterroism's assertion that
"the danger Awlaki poses to this country is no longer confined to
words"), "what exactly does a U.S. citizen have to do to make Obama want
to kill him?" She cites the justifications that have been offered, and
summarizes al-Awlaki's wrongs as "fraterniz[ation] with terrorists ...
be[ing] source of spiritual inspiration to the 9/11 hijackers ... [and]
hav[ing] a Facebook page."
- Where to Start "Does it strike you as odd," asks liberal Marcy Wheeler,
"that we're targeting US citizens with no judicial process? Does it
strike you as odd that we’ve got two entirely separate sets of list on
which Americans can be targeted to be killed? Does it strike you as odd
that we've now got an apparent turf battle over who gets to kill
al-Awlaki?" She's particularly piqued by the irony that "the
intelligence that won al-Awlaki a place on the kill list" might have
come from a non-American terrorist suspect at the center of a
months-long debate over Miranda rights.
- The Problem with this Debate The American Spectator's John Tabin discusses "a maddening dynamic in civil liberties debates: the tendency of one
side to pretend that the threat of terrorism doesn't exist while the
other side pretends that there's nothing at all troubling about the
powers necessary to combat the threat." He says "the sensible approach to thorny questions like this is effective
oversight and sunset clauses to ensure that extraordinary powers
are reassessed periodically." This is how Britain dealt with the IRA, he notes.
Want to add to this story? Let us know in comments
or send an email to the author at
hhorn at theatlantic dot com.
You can share ideas for stories on the Open Wire.