Not the only libertarian all-star troubled by this morning’s op in Yemen. Earlier on Fox, Gary Johnson confessed to mixed feelings that a U.S. citizen, degenerate though he was, had been targeted for execution without due process. Honestly, I’m conflicted too: Read the exchange between Andy McCarthy and Kevin Williamson at The Corner for sharp arguments on each side. There are two difficulties here, I think. One is the fact of Awlaki’s citizenship, the other is the nature of the combat he was engaged in. No one outside of the far left disputes that if an American joins a foreign army and points a gun at a U.S. soldier on the battlefield, the soldier’s entitled to take him down. No one disputes either that officers are legitimate targets in war, not merely the infantrymen they command. (Ask Admiral Yamamoto about that.) Awlaki was an officer in Al Qaeda’s army, tasked mainly with propaganda but increasingly given to directing would-be killers like Abdulmutallab around the global battlefield. Or so we’re told; there’s endless video out there of him denouncing America and exhorting attacks on the country, but the proof that he was planning operations — the heart of the argument for taking him out — remains within the upper reaches of America’s counterterror establishment.
That’s where his citizenship comes in. If we’re going to kill one of our own without independent review of the evidence that he is in fact fighting or commanding fighters on the other side, then we’re handing the president broaaaad power to kill Americans abroad. As Danger Room says, “[S]houldn’t Awlaki’s American citizenship count for something? If nothing else, doesn’t it oblige the government to at least disclose why it asserts it can kill an American citizen?” The irony is, I doubt the feds would have trouble convincing a judge that Awlaki’s as big a threat as they suspect: Although some experts claim his role in AQ was vastly overstated, his terror ties go all the way back to 9/11. Read Tom Joscelyn’s account of Awlaki’s relationship with three of the hijackers, then read this IntelWire summary of how he spent the past 10 years, assuming more of an operational role in the last few. (And no, contrary to what some on the left might tell you, Awlaki’s journey to jihad wasn’t a reaction to Afghanistan and Iraq. It began before that.) According to one senior U.S. official, he even took an interest in using chemical weapons against Americans. Why can’t we have a mechanism in which a judge either (a) reviews the evidence and signs off on the decision to target a suspect who’s a citizen, a la a probable cause warrant, or (b) adjudicates that the target has constructively expatriated himself by swearing allegiance to an enemy and taking up arms? The most hawkish hawks will hate that idea because it slightly limits the president’s war-making power and introduces a law-enforcement element into the war on terror, but there are worse precedents than involving judges in rare terrorism cases. Like, for instance, letting the president fire drones at anyone he wants, citizen or not, if they happen to be beyond easy reach of U.S. infantrymen.
Here’s Paul. Note the bit at the very end in which he distinguishes Awlaki from Bin Laden on grounds that no one ever said the former was a participant in 9/11. In fact, a lot of people suspect that he was; just follow the links above. Exit question: What would the war on terror have looked like without drones?