A few days ago, a predator drone took out Anwar Al-Awlaki, an all-round bad guy, and American citizen. The ACLU (and Ron Paul and Gary Johnson) complained about it, saying that this was a violation of due process. Those who maintain we are in a state of war against terrorists are exasperated by the claim, saying, as Charles Krauthammer did, that the rebel soldiers at Pickett’s charge were not being served papers, even though (according to the Union account) the rebels were still all American citizens. The two sides were not divided by a cluster of attorneys swinging briefcases at each other.
A third position, neither fish nor fowl, is that of the Obama administration. When it comes to things like Gitmo, the administration wants terrorists to be treated like criminals, to be tried in civilian courts, etc. But on the other hand, it was the Obama administration that ordered this strike. This is one of those “you can’t have it both ways” deals.
This inconsistency could be resolved by a “clear and present danger” argument. If a disturbed American citizen with a sniper rifle and twenty boxes of ammo climbs up on top of a water tower, and starts shooting at the citizenry, it is legitimate for law enforcement to take him out. His citizenry is irrelevant, and the processes that must be followed are those of a good SWAT team.
But in order to make this case, you have to make it. You can’t just assert that somebody on the other side of the world is being really bad according to (top secret) intelligence, and then show his photograph a number of times on the news in various scary ways. In order to do this legitimately, you have to show your people that an injustice is not being done, or they have to be able to see that for themselves.
From what I understand, this assassination of Awlaki is one that easily could have been justified, but which, for various reasons of political incoherence, has not been. Until such time as this incoherence is overcome, the protests are a healthy sign. A compelling explanation is necessary to justice, and not just necessary for PR reasons. And so I commmend two parties for a job well-done. I commend the military units that conducted the strike (and the ordering of the strike itself), and I commend those who are protesting the way it has been handled. I condemn the attorneys in the White House and/or Justice Department for the smell of boiling cabbage that surrounds the whole thing.