The death of Anwar Awlaki raises some important questions about the reach of U.S. military force in the battle against al-Qaeda. Unlike Osama bin Laden and countless others targeted in drone strikes, Awlaki was a U.S. citizen. And while there was clearly plenty of circumstantial evidence that strongly suggested that he was affiliated with al-Qaeda and encouraged attacks against the United States, none of this was proven in court. Greenwald writes:
What's most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar ("No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law"), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What's most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government's new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government.
The counter-argument here is that Awlaki effectively lost whatever constitutional protections citizenship affords when he took up arms against his country and was found on a battlefield. But this begs two important questions: is Yemen a battlefield (I'd say it probably is) and on what basis was Awlaki's guilt substantiated? As I said, in this specific case, it looks like Awlaki was a traitor to his country and had given aid and comfort to its enemies. But is executive decree of guilt enough to have Americans - even loatheome ones - killed?