Jacob Sullum

While Awlaki may have been guilty of everything the administration claims, it is not hard to imagine how a program of classified, unreviewable death decrees might go awry, especially in the service of a perpetual, geographically undefined war against an amorphous enemy. Endorsing Obama's "targeted killings," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., recently declared that "restricting the definition of the battlefield" or "restricting the definition of the enemy" would be reckless because "this is a worldwide conflict without borders."

Writing in The New York Times, Jack Goldsmith, an assistant attorney general in the Bush administration, acknowledges that the unilateral power to kill anyone the president identifies as an enemy is "fraught with the danger of executive overreach or mistakes." But "so far," Goldsmith assures us, "it appears" Obama is using his license to kill "with caution." After all, "before someone like Mr. Awlaki is targeted, multiple intelligence sources support the conclusion that he is a dangerous threat, top lawyers from many agencies scrutinize the action, (and) policy makers at the highest levels of government approve the action after assessing its legal and political risks."

Or so we're told, by former insiders like Goldsmith and unnamed officials quoted in news stories on the condition that they not be identified. The Obama administration can't even be bothered to say "trust us" on the record.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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