Anwar al Awlaki's YouTube sermons for al Qaeda inspired Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hassan and underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and some U.S. officials are pretty happy he's dead. But the way he was killed raises uncomfortable questions. Awlaki, a native of New Mexico, was killed by an airstrike in Yemen -- mostly by an American drone, Wired's Spencer Ackerman writes. And President Obama personally ordered the strike, the BBC reports. That means an American citizen was killed without due process -- a public airing of the evidence against him.
"It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said," The New York Times' Scott Shane reports. "A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush said he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president." But the Obama administration hinted such an action was possible, when Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, told Congress in February, "If we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that."
At Lawfare, Robert Chesney writes that there are two key questions to think about in the wake of Awlaki's death: 1) Whether he was persued for exercising his First Amendment rights and 2) Whether he was punished in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights. Reactions to the news depend on weighing those questions against the national security victory in killing a man the U.S. says was an operational leader for al Qaeda, not just a guy who made YouTubes. Ackerman notes that the U.S. has never presented evidence that Awlaki had such a role.