When Jeffrey Goldberg, who calls himself a "warmongering neocon hawk," told me that he was "sympathetic to the purity of [Glenn] Greenwald's position" on Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen and Al Qaeda propagandist whom the Obama administration has decided to kill, I thought an intriguing convergence had been revealed.
I had called Goldberg, the prolific Atlantic reporter and blogger, on Tuesday afternoon to talk about airport security (his recent piece on the subject is a hilarious must-read). But somewhere along the way, we got side-tracked into a broader discussion about civil liberties. During our chat, Goldberg seemed to agree with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and die-hard civil libertarian/Salon blogger/relentless Goldberg critic Glenn Greenwald: the US government ought not to kill al-Awlaki without due process.
Goldberg launched the discussion of al-Awlaki's fate by telling me he was surprised there wasn't more public debate over the Obama administration's stance. "It's amazing to me," he said. "You're telling me that the President can decide to go kill an American without judicial or congressional oversight?" There's a "continuum," Goldberg said, between the al-Awlaki case and another pet peeve—that the "government has decided it's going to grope the genitals of American citizens." Here are my edited notes on the rest of Goldberg's comments on the subject:
This is tremendous power. This is the government accruing more and more and more power. I just think you're dealing with a principle that's completely divorced from grossness of who Anwar al-Awlaki is [how reprehensible and unsympathetic he is, etc], which is that he has American citizenship and the President has decided to kill an American. I would like an open discussion [about that.] That is an incredible power grab. Put aside who [al-Awlaki] is and where he lives: the man is an American citizen and [the President] has taken upon himself to say I'm going to go and [kill] an American citizen. It's certainly heavier than "I'm going to allow the government to grope the genitals of American citizens"....
I don't think enough proof has been presented that [al-Awlaki] is an actual operator of terrorist cells, that he's actually directing the actual murder of others. I think he's fundamentally functioning as a propagandist....
The Israelis have never conducted an assassination against an Israeli citizen.... It would be interesting to look at what the Israel Supreme Court might say about the Prime Minister-directed killing of someone considered to be a terrorist, an Israeli citizen. I have a feeling, maybe i'm crazy, that there might be a more active judicial debate and Knesset debate on that than we have here.
Once you cross this bridge.... no matter who he is or what he's said you have a situation where the American government is pursuing the assassination of American citizen.
I'm sympathetic to the purity of [Glenn] Greenwald's position on this. How is it the government can make a decision without oversight that it's going to seek the drone assassination of an American citizen.....
As hawkish as i am I'm just not comfortable [with this]. I don't want to be represented by a government that without judicial and congressional oversight and the benefit of courts decides to assassinate an american citizen. What I'm saying is I'd like to see more evidence.... I do see it as a continuum.... get the government out of my pants, keep the government from killing American citizens without judicial proceedings.
Goldberg has yet to write about this subject on his blog. But interestingly, his position seems to clash with that of Andrew Sullivan, his fellow blogger and Atlantic colleague. Sullivan doesn't seem to have many serious qualms about the government killing al-Awlaki.