The Corleone credo

    Near the climax of Godfather II, Michael Corleone somberly intoned: “If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it’s that you can kill anybody.” And as President Obama implicitly replied last Friday, “Yup, even an American citizen.”Nobody is shedding tears for Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born American-educated radical Muslim cleric who was lit up by one of Obama’s drones the other day in Yemen. He was a bad guy who inspired our enemies with his hostile homilies (“jihad against America is binding upon myself”), and he was a player of some sort in al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate.But it’s nonetheless disturbing that so few Americans are asking hard questions about Obama’s covert assassination program. I’m particularly referring to the grassroots liberals and Democrats who would be going ballistic if George W. Bush had ever opted to summarily whack a U.S. citizen in apparent breach of the Fifth Amendment (“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”). And if Bush had shrouded his decision in secrecy and stonewalled all legitimate questions (as Obama has done), liberals and Democrats would’ve demanded congressional hearings.It would be easy to simply shrug off Awlaki (“Enjoy paradise, pal!”), and get back to playoff baseball. But this is reportedly the first time that a president has specifically targeted an American for CIA assassination – acting in essence as judge, jury, and executioner – and that precedent should be grist for serious discussion. In fact, I said this 18 months ago, when it was reported (via government leaks) that Awlaki had been placed on a hit list of American citizens.The problem then, and the problem now, is that the Obama administration won’t engage in this discussion. It won’t reveal the evidence against Awlaki, or explain why his behavior warranted summary execution (did it rise to the level of an imminent threat?), or provide any information about its citizen hit list. Justice Department lawyers have reportedly concluded that the hit on Awlaki was legal, but we don’t know the reasoning because the brief is classified. Mewanwhile, at a press conference last Friday, Obama press secretary Jay Carney was asked, “Is there going to be any evidence presented?” And he replied, “I don’t have anything for you on that.”Obama’s lawyers have also worked, thus far successfully, to shield the hit list from all judicial scrutiny; late last year, they invoked a sweeping “state secrets” defense and persuaded a federal judge to quash a lawsuit that had sought to remove Awlaki from the list. But since there’s no specific language, in U.S. or international law, that authorizes presidents to kill American citizens in violation of due process, a judicial determination would certainly be helpful.So much for “the most transparent administration in history,” as the White House again billed itself last Wednesday. So much for Obama’s autumn ’10 claim that his administration “respects civil rights and civil liberties.”Here are my questions, the kind that too few Americans (especially Democrats) seem motivated to ask:Can a president now kill anybody? What’s the criteria for whacking the next American citizen? What kind of evidence is required? How is it weighed? What’s the definition of an “imminent threat?” Who’s involved in the decision-making before it reaches the president? What checks and balances have been established, to ensure that the power to kill Americans will not be abused in the future? (Most liberals are apparerntly OK with Obama deciding hits, but what if the next guy is Romney or Perry?) How many Americans are currently on the hit list? On what basis were they added? Do citizens ever drop off the list? Who reviews and updates the evidence against them? And where’s the language, in constitutional and international law, that authorizes presidents to secretly target Americans? Under what legal criteria can a chief executive take on the unchecked role of summary executioner and still be in compliance with the due process clause?I’m just wondering. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in a key ruling seven years ago, “War is not a blank check.”——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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