We do not seem to know whether Awlaki’s father was acting for his son when he petitioned the court, but from now on it would become necessary for the younger man or rather his emulators to plead his own case, perhaps even by proxy, and have the nerve to do so. He should have to show good cause why he did not choose to appear in person, and if that alibi happened to be the brute fact of his having fled all known jurisdictions, it would tend to tell against him. (Of course, he could always have the courage to renounce his citizenship.) Precedent would be set for any would-be emulators: You have been amply warned that this very tolerant and conscientious society has strict limits to its patience. Such a hearing would fall short of an ideal definition of due process, but only to the precise extent that the defendant had already put himself outside the law. One of the Obama administration’s reported arguments is that Yemen’s president has already agreed, albeit in secret, to the killing of Awlaki. It’s bad enough that our own president should be so evasive on this matter, without our citing the unaccountable fiat of another one who seems to have forfeited the confidence of his people.
Future Awlakis should have their day in court, however much we may have to grit our teeth, because the plain text of two constitutional amendments requires it, and because it might whisper to quite a large watching audience that America takes its ideals seriously, and politely expects its fortunate citizens to do the same.