Up until now, the Obama administration’s policy of sanctioning the assassination of U.S. citizens has been more theoretical than real. Not any longer:
A missile fired from an American drone aircraft in Yemen on Friday killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric who was a leading figure in Al Qaeda’s affiliate in this country, according to an official in Washington.
….Yemen’s official news agency, Saba, reported that the attack also killed Samir Khan, an American citizen of Pakistani origin and the editor of Inspire, Al Qaeda’s English-language Internet magazine. Mr. Khan proclaimed in the magazine last year that he was “proud to be a traitor to America.”
Is this the first targeted assassination of a U.S. citizen as part of the war on terror? Probably. The Bush administration killed Buffalo-born Kamal Derwish in 2002, but at least for public consumption, quickly claimed that they had been targeting someone else and Derwish was simply collateral damage. You can take that for what it’s worth, but in any case, even that fig leaf is gone now: no one’s even bothering to pretend that al-Awlaki’s killing was anything other than deliberately planned and executed.
No one is likely to mourn al-Awlaki himself — which is what made his assassination so safe in the first place — but we sure ought be mourning the fact that it happened, and that it’s likely to happen routinely from now on. The Obama administration has demonstrated once again, as it did in Libya and as it’s done in a variety of surveillance cases, that its view of executive power in the arena of national security is hardly any less expansive than Dick Cheney’s was. The fact that this was predictable makes it no less alarming. Regardless of how any of us feels about warmaking in general, there are very good reasons that national governments are more constrained in their ability to kill their own citizens than in their ability to kill foreigners, constraints enshrined in both the explicit rules and longstanding traditions of due process. That bright line has grown a lot dimmer today.
The hardcore national security hawks in both parties will likely cheer Obama’s “toughness” today, but they shouldn’t. Bright lines, once crossed, seldom survive. Adam Serwer has more here. Glenn Greenwald has more here.