Jonah Goldberg

I agree with the Obama administration's decision to kill the American-born al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki. What I can't fathom is why the administration agrees with me.

Here's Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta responding to complaints from the ACLU over the "assassination" of an American citizen without due process: "This individual was clearly a terrorist. And yes, he was a citizen, but if you're a terrorist, you're a terrorist. And that means that we have the ability to go after those who would threaten to attack the United States and kill Americans."

I agree with that. The Constitution empowers the president to put down insurrection, and what was Awlaki if not an insurrectionist? From the Whiskey Rebellion to the Civil War to World War II, there have been times when presidents legally and constitutionally treated American citizens as enemy combatants. Awlaki hardly seems deserving of special treatment.

Moreover, the authorization for the use of force passed on Sept. 18, 2001, says the president "is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."

It doesn't say anything about exempting Americans. If news reports, statements from U.S. officials and Awlaki himself are to be believed, Awlaki was a member of al-Qaeda. Moreover, he helped orchestrate and incite violence aimed at the U.S. He never denied the charges against him but hid outside of U.S. jurisdiction fomenting violence against America.

Case closed.

And yet, I sympathize with critics on the far left and libertarian right who find the whole thing unseemly. Surely when an American is in the crosshairs, there's a higher political bar, even if there isn't a higher legal or constitutional one.

ABC's Jake Tapper asked White House spokesman Jay Carney, "Does the administration not see at all how a president asserting that he has the right to kill an American citizen without due process, and that he's not going to even explain why he thinks he has that right, is troublesome to some people?"

Carney's response: "I'm not going to ... discuss the circumstances of his death."

The mind reels to think how people would have responded if President Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, had said that.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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