In the perfect world there would be no terrorism, or reasons that some thought they needed to resort to terrorism.
Obviously we do not live in a perfect world, but instead live in one where tough decisions must be made at times for the larger safety of society. One of the most difficult, and controversial decisions arises over the legal justification for the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a New Mexico-born radical Muslim cleric who died in an American drone strike last September.
While it would have been my desire to see the capture of al-Awlaki, with a trial on U.S. soil, as I have desired for many combatants who were engaged in terrorist acts, that was not to be. There is no way that any credible government could have allowed for the continued deeds to be perpetrated by al-Awlaki, and not taken actions to stop it. The killing of al-Awlaki may be bitter to consider, but what might the aftermath of his planned assaults on Americans or our allies tasted like?
Tough constitutional calls and moral dilemmas are a part of governing. They always have been, and always will be. Those same weighty issues are also ours to ponder and debate.
“Given the nature of how terrorists act and where they tend to hide, it may not always be feasible to capture a United States citizen terrorist who presents an imminent threat of violent attack,” Mr. Holder said in a speech at Northwestern University’s law school. “In that case, our government has the clear authority to defend the United States with lethal force.”
While Mr. Holder is not the first administration official to address the targeted killing of citizens — the Pentagon’s general counsel, Jeh Johnson, did so last month at Yale Law School, for example — it was notable for the nation’s top law enforcement official to declare that it is constitutional for the government to kill citizens without any judicial review under certain circumstances. Mr. Holder’s remarks about the targeted killing of United States citizens were a centerpiece of a speech describing legal principles behind the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policies.
“Some have argued that the president is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or associated forces,” Mr. Holder said. “This is simply not accurate. ‘Due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.”