Herman Cain Criticized the Al-Awlaki Kill Order Twice

Cain acted as though he'd never heard about the possibility before in an interview with The Atlantic in late May



What I find strange about the clip above, flagged by my colleague Chris Good, where Herman Cain says on May 5, 2011, that President Obama shouldn't have the power to order American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki killed, is that I interviewed Cain several weeks later, and had this exchange:

President Obama has said that he has the authority to assassinate American citizens if he's declared them an enemy combatant in the War on Terror. Al Awlaki is one guy who is on the official government list where he can be taken out. Do you have any thoughts on that? Is it a good policy because it allows us to take out Americans who may have joined Al Qaeda? Or is it a bad policy-

Well first of all, this is the first that I have heard -- you're saying it's okay to take out American citizens if he suspects they are terrorist related. Is that what you said?!

Yes, that's what I said.

I've got to be honest with you. I have not heard that. I had not heard that's something that he said. I don't believe that the president of the United States should order the assassination of citizens of the United States. That's why we have our court system, and that's why we have our laws. Even if the person is suspected of being affiliated with terrorism, if they are a citizen of this country, they still deserve the rights of this country, which includes due process. Osama bin Laden was not a citizen of the United States of America. So I would not have changed the decision the president made in that regard. But if you're a citizen, no, it is not right for the president to to think he has the power to have you assassinated. No. He has the power to make sure you're locked up, but you have to go through due process. (emphasis added)

I remember the exchange because of the pronounced surprise in Cain's voice. Obviously the man was conducting a lot of conversations with reporters during that month. But it seems odd to react with such surprise to a matter of such importance when you've in fact been questioned about it before!

In any case, Cain has been documented articulating this position twice in May. If he's now chosen not to challenge Obama on the extra-judicial killing of American citizens, that would seem to be another strike against his candidacy, which shown remarkable resilience but also repeatedly stumbled over national security and foreign policy questions.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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