The non sequitur is breathtaking. Awlaki wouldn’t receive notice, the opportunity to be heard or a hearing before a decision maker. In other words, he would receive none of the components of traditional due process — not even one. How the absence of due process could be magically transformed into its satisfaction is never stated or explained. All we get is the assertion that a target’s interest in life must be “balanced against” the government’s interest in protecting other Americans. On this theory, no due process would be due to those accused of murder, because their lives would have to be balanced against the government’s interest in protecting their potential victims.

The cases cited by the white paper provide no precedent for the idea that due process could be satisfied by some secret, internal process within the executive branch — not that any such process is even mentioned. The reason they don’t is obvious: There is no such precedent. Never, to my knowledge, in the history of due process jurisprudence, has a court said that a neutral decision maker wasn’t necessary. And as Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote in language cited in the Mathews case, “the essence of due process is the requirement that a person in jeopardy of serious loss [be given] notice of the case against him and opportunity to meet it.”…

The white paper should have said that due process doesn’t apply on the battlefield. By instead making due process into a rubber stamp, the administration is ignoring precedent and subverting the idea of the rule of law. When is some law worse than none? When that law is so watered down that it loses the meaning it has had for 800 years.