The killing of al-Awlaki and the others was without any due process whatsoever, and that should terrify all Americans. The federal government has not claimed the lawful power to kill Americans without due process since the Civil War; even then, the power to kill was claimed only in actual combat. Al-Awlaki and his son were killed while they were driving in a car in the desert. The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the Constitution applies in war and in peace. Even the Nazi soldiers and sailors who were arrested in Amagansett, N.Y., and in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., during World War II were entitled to a trial.
The legal authority in which Holder claimed to find support was the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which was enacted by Congress in the days following 9/11. That statute permits the president to use force to repel those who planned and plotted 9/11 and who continue to plan and plot the use of terror tactics to assault the United States. Holder argued in his speech that arresting al-Awlaki -- who has never been indicted or otherwise charged with a crime but who is believed to have encouraged terrorist attacks in the U.S. -- would have been impractical, that killing him was the only option available to prevent him from committing more harm, and that Congress must have contemplated that when it enacted the AUMF.
Even if Holder is correct -- that Congress contemplated presidential killing of Americans without due process when it enacted the AUMF -- such a delegation of power is not Congress' to give. Congress is governed by the same Constitution that restrains the president. It can no more authorize the president to avoid due process than it can authorize him to extend his term in office beyond four years.
Instead of presenting evidence of al-Awlaki's alleged crimes to a grand jury and seeking an indictment and an arrest and a trial, the president presented the evidence to a small group of unnamed advisers, and then he secretly decided that al-Awlaki was such an imminent threat to America 10,000 miles away that he had to be killed. This is logic more worthy of Joseph Stalin than Thomas Jefferson. It effectively says that the president is above the Constitution and the rule of law, and that he can reject his oath to uphold both.
If the president can kill an American in Yemen, can he do so in Peoria? Even the British king, from whose tyrannical grasp the American colonists seceded, did not claim such powers. And we fought a Revolution against him.