Assassinating Americans

| Wed Apr. 7, 2010 1:01 PM EDT

As we've suspected for a while, the United States government is now officially in the business of assassinating United States citizens it suspects of terrorist activities:

After concluding that he has taken on an operational role in attempted terrorist attacks, the Obama administration has authorized the capture or killing of a U.S.-born Muslim cleric who is believed to be in Yemen, U.S. officials said. Anwar Awlaki, 38, who was born in New Mexico, recently was added to the CIA target list after a special government review of his activities, prompted by his status as a U.S. citizen, one of the officials said.

Andy McCarthy says this is "obviously the right call," so I'll leave it to fellow conservative Kevin Williamson to talk a little sense:

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?....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?

As it happens, this might be the right call. CAP's Ken Gude thinks it is, for example. On the other hand, Glenn Greenwald thinks it isn't. But yes: even if you think this is the right decision, it ought to make you feel a little bit queasy.