I recently ran a couple of columns (here and here) and postings criticizing President Obama’s assertion of the right to kill citizens as a presidential prerogative. It now appears that he has delegated the selection of targets for killings to a panel of unnamed officials who determine which people should be killed without a trial or even a charge. When it comes to citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki, the killings raise serious constitutional problems that are being kept from the courts by the Administration.
The identity of the members of the death panel are secret. There is no public record of their decisions or the basis for the kill order. Indeed, neither the target nor the public will necessarily know that it was this panel that ordered the killing.
While civil libertarians are raising voices of concern over such extrajudicial killings of citizens, the Obama Administration has portrayed “the killing of Awlaki as a demonstration of President Barack Obama’s toughness toward militants who threaten the United States.” It has worked. Even conservatives are cheering the killings of the two citizens. Apparently, death panels in health care are enough to rally thousands in opposition but an actual death panel produces nary a yawn if the targets are hated. The fear is that this is how the rule of law dies — to the cheers and thunderous applause of citizens.
The results of the panel are simply submitted to the President, who retains the authority to countermand their decisions.
Obama has the distinction of putting the first citizen on the list. As noted in the earlier postings, Bush killed a citizen who was riding with a target, but Obama outdid his predecessor again in ordering the killing of a citizen.