How a US Citizen Came to Be in America's Cross Hairs
This lengthy apologia for Obama's drone strike on Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16 year old son, and another American of marginal importance in Yemen is supposed to impress us with how meticulous the administration was about the legal issues surrounding the kill.It was the culmination of years of painstaking intelligence work, intense deliberation by lawyers working for President Obama and turf fights between the Pentagon and the C.I.A., whose parallel drone wars converged on the killing grounds of Yemen. For what was apparently the first time since the Civil War, the United States government had carried out the deliberate killing of an American citizen as a wartime enemy and without a trial.
We learn that two lawyers who wrote "the definitive" critique of Bush's assertion of presidential wartime powers miraculously were able to find a way to justify the Obama administrations' actions with regard to Anwar-al-Awlaki. Well of course they were. They found a way to have their cake and eat it, too, saying that what Bush did, or rather how Bush's administration justified what was being done, was not legally correct and their justification for what Obama did was legally correct. A fine pair of cynical partisan lawyers they. I'm sure al-Awlaki is relieved to learn that his death was not the result of the President claiming too much authority but rather was the result of legal hair splitting over how much of an imminent threat to the US he, al-Awlaki, really was.
This article in the New York Times, linked above, also, I think, is supposed to impress us about how much of a one off thing al-Awlaki's assassination was and that this administration wouldn't consider killing American's anywhere without going through a painful and lengthy legal process. However, I come away with the impression that the administration's lawyers will find a way to justify whatever the President wants to do regardless of what it is even if it directly contradicts what those lawyers have written and opined in the past.
So, hypocritical as it might seem, they found their legal pretext to nail al-Awlaki, but not the other two. Not al-Awlaki's son or the guy whose sins against America amounted to publishing a blog. The latter two were taken out as collateral damage, a reminder that what we are talking about is war, a blunt instrument and one not well suited to legal niceties.
Failing to draw a hard line between war powers and civilian legalities does damage to both.