Yesterday, riding a wave of adulation and military-reverence, the Obama administration tried to end the life of this American citizen -- never charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime -- with a drone strike in Yemen, but missed and killed two other people instead:
A missile strike from an American military drone in a remote region of Yemen on Thursday was aimed at killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric believed to be hiding in the country, American officials said Friday.
The attack does not appear to have killed Mr. Awlaki, the officials said, but may have killed operatives of Al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen.
The other people killed "may have" been Al Qaeda operatives. Or they "may not have" been. Who cares? They're mere collateral damage on the glorious road to ending the life of this American citizen without due process (and pointing out that the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution expressly guarantees that "no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law" -- and provides no exception for war -- is the sort of tedious legalism that shouldn't interfere with the excitement of drone strikes).
There are certain civil liberties debates where, even though I hold strong opinions, I can at least understand the reasoning and impulses of those who disagree; the killing of bin Laden was one such instance. But the notion that the President has the power to order American citizens assassinated without an iota of due process -- far from any battlefield, not during combat -- is an idea so utterly foreign to me, so far beyond the bounds of what is reasonable, that it's hard to convey in words or treat with civility.
How do you even engage someone in rational discussion who is willing to assume that their fellow citizen is guilty of being a Terrorist without seeing evidence for it, without having that evidence tested, without giving that citizen a chance to defend himself -- all because the President declares it to be so? "I know Awlaki, my fellow citizen, is a Terrorist and he deserves to die. Why? Because the President decreed that, and that's good enough for me. Trials are so pre-9/11." If someone is willing to dutifully click their heels and spout definitively authoritarian anthems like that, imagine how impervious to reason they are on these issues.
And if someone is willing to vest in the President the power to assassinate American citizens without a trial far from any battlefield -- if someone believes that the President has that power: the power of unilaterally imposing the death penalty and literally acting as judge, jury and executioner -- what possible limits would they ever impose on the President's power? There cannot be any. Or if someone is willing to declare a citizen to be a "traitor" and demand they be treated as such -- even though the Constitution expressly assigns the power to declare treason to the Judicial Branch and requires what we call "a trial" with stringent evidence requirements before someone is guilty of treason -- how can any appeals to law or the Constitution be made to a person who obviously believes in neither?