CIA Authorized to Kill American Citizen: First Reactions

New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awliki now on the kill list

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The CIA is now authorized to kill American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, a top terrorism suspect currently in Yemen. al-Awlaki's situation has long been controversial: on the one hand, he has been indirectly linked to the Fort Hood shooting and to the attempted Christmas Day airplane bombing. On the other hand, the idea that the executive branch can authorize the killing of an American citizen without court approval killing is legally and morally disturbing to many. A representative sample of first reactions:

  • 'Unbelievably Orwellian and Tyrannical'  Salon's Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer, restates his opposition to this move, and points out that it goes beyond any powers John Yoo ever claimed for President Bush:
No due process is accorded.  No charges or trials are necessary.  No evidence is offered, nor any opportunity for him to deny these accusations ... Instead, in Barack Obama's America, the way guilt is determined for American citizens -- and a death penalty imposed -- is that the President, like the King he thinks he is, secretly decrees someone's guilt as a Terrorist.  He then dispatches his aides to run to America's newspapers -- cowardly hiding behind the shield of anonymity which they're granted -- to proclaim that the Guilty One shall be killed on sight because the Leader has decreed him to be a Terrorist.
  • 'Obviously the Right Call'  Explains the National Review's Andy McCarthy who--perhaps incorrectly--predicts "muted" liberal criticism now that it's Obama calling the shots:
We are at war against al Qaeda under an authorization from Congress. Anwar al-Awlaki, a purportedly American-born Islamic cleric, who is now operating in Yemen, ministered to the 9/11 hijackers, inspired the Ft. Hood assassin, probably directed the would-be Christmas bomber, and is believed to be orchestrating and recruiting for violent jihad operations against the United States. The president is the commander-in-chief with primacy on questions regarding the conduct of war.
  • 'Obviously?'  McCarthy's National Review colleague Kevin Williamson isn't so sure: "I might be persuaded that this is, in fact, the right call. But obviously? No hesitation there? It seems to me that the fact of U.S. citizenship ought to be a bright line on the political map." He wonders who else the administration could kill according to these rules: "Odious as Awlaki is, this seems to me to be setting an awful and reckless precedent." He declares himself "just a little bit queasy."
  • Going by the Record  "Confined to words," writes Juli Weiner at Vanity Fair (she's referring to a counterterroism's assertion that "the danger Awlaki poses to this country is no longer confined to words"), "what exactly does a U.S. citizen have to do to make Obama want to kill him?" She cites the justifications that have been offered, and summarizes al-Awlaki's wrongs as "fraterniz[ation] with terrorists ... be[ing] source of spiritual inspiration to the 9/11 hijackers ... [and] hav[ing] a Facebook page."
  • Where to Start  "Does it strike you as odd," asks liberal Marcy Wheeler, "that we're targeting US citizens with no judicial process? Does it strike you as odd that we’ve got two entirely separate sets of list on which Americans can be targeted to be killed? Does it strike you as odd that we've now got an apparent turf battle over who gets to kill al-Awlaki?" She's particularly piqued by the irony that "the intelligence that won al-Awlaki a place on the kill list" might have come from a non-American terrorist suspect at the center of a months-long debate over Miranda rights.
  • The Problem with this Debate  The American Spectator's John Tabin discusses "a maddening dynamic in civil liberties debates: the tendency of one side to pretend that the threat of terrorism doesn't exist while the other side pretends that there's nothing at all troubling about the powers necessary to combat the threat." He says "the sensible approach to thorny questions like this is effective oversight and sunset clauses to ensure that extraordinary powers are reassessed periodically." This is how Britain dealt with the IRA, he notes.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.