Paul Greenberg

Mission accomplished. How soul-satisfying to say those words with no sense of irony. For there is little doubt -- indeed, no doubt -- that these enemies of the United States were indeed enemies of the United States.

Nor can there be any doubt that their homicidal activities were fully covered by the various resolutions passed by Congress in the wake of the surprise attacks on this country September 11, 2001; by the executive orders of its president; by a long line of court decisions before and since; and by the demands of simple justice, common sense, and what an American president named Lincoln called the overriding law of any comity: the law of necessity.

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The late Anwar al-Awlaki's extensive dossier is not easy to summarize, but Mr. Holder's boss, the president of the United States and commander-in-chief of its armed forces, gave it a good try when he announced Anwar al-Awlaki's sudden demise last September. He condensed that, uh, gentleman's long list of war crimes to just a couple of paragraphs:

"I want to say a few words about some important news. Earlier this morning, Anwar Awlaki, a leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, was killed in Yemen. The death (Here Mr. Obama was interrupted by applause) ... The death of Awlaki is a major blow to al-Qaida's most active operational affiliate. Awlaki was the leader of external operations for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. In that role, he took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans. He directed the failed attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009. He directed the failed attempt to blow up U.S. cargo planes in 2010. And he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda...."

The bill of particulars against Mr. Awlaki's confederate, Samir Khan, may not have been as extensive but it was impressive, too. Until he made the mistake of riding with his leader in a convoy that lethal day. He, too, was definitely worth the attention of a drone and a few fighter jets. And got it.

These two will kill no more. To cite a saying among the pilots of those bristling U.S. A-10 Warthogs, an aircraft whose appearance over the battlefield never fails to lift the hearts of our grunts under enemy fire: "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, but sometimes He subcontracts."

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Our current president sounds as determined as our last one to bring such killers to justice. Or bring justice to them if necessary. If you didn't know any better, you'd have thought Barack Obama was channeling George W. Bush.

Goodness, can this be our Barack Obama? The one and same Sen. Obama who used to deride George Bush's war on terror? The one who said the Surge would never work in Iraq, and dismissed the judgment of the general who devised that successful strategy? The same presidential candidate who tried to undermine the war on terror's constitutional basis any way he could? The same President Obama who changed the name of the war on terror to overseas contingency operations lest anyone think we were engaged in a real, life-and-death struggle?

Yep, one and the same. And he has since appointed that same general, David Petraeus, as director of the CIA. An excellent choice. There may be no more effective a teacher than responsibility when it comes to educating our politicians.

Mr. Obama seems to have learned considerable since those feckless days before he took the presidential oath of office. Even on his first day in the Oval Office, he moved to dismantle the whole, carefully developed, well-situated and, yes, perfectly constitutional operation at Guantanamo. He ordered it be shut down within a year.

By whatever name, this president is conducting the same war on terror his predecessor did, and relying on much the same legal principles and military methods. And achieving much the same success. He is to be congratulated on his progress. He's learned a lot over the past three years. So has his attorney general.

What both have learned was once summed up by an attorney general of the United States, associate justice of the Supreme Court, leading jurist at the Nuremberg trials, and wise old country lawyer named Robert H. Jackson.

Mr. Justice Jackson never graduated from Harvard or Yale or any other law school. Maybe that explains why his preternatural intelligence was never dimmed. It was he who pointed out that the Constitution of the United States is not a suicide pact.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.