The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki is getting attention not just because he was a major figure in al-Qaeda in Yemen. He was also an American. This has raised questions about whether or not the United States has the right to kill an American citizen, even if we are in a state of war with the organization. Apparently it’s okay to kill a non-citizen without qualms (vide Osama bin Laden), but being an American changes the rules, at least according to Glenn Greenwald.
I’m not enthusiastic about killing anybody, but I’m also a realist and know that when you’re fighting people who want to kill you and most of the people in your country, chances are someone is going to get killed. Mr. al-Awklai was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but he made a conscious choice to take up arms against the United States, and I doubt that as the life flickered out of him his last thoughts were, “Hey, you can’t do this: I’m an American!”
I also agree with upyernoz’s assessment.
the fifth amendment prohibits the federal government from depriving life without due process of a “person” not just a “citizen.” i think the constitution pretty clearly prohibits the assassination of anyone, not just people who happened to have been born in the u.s. or of american parents, or who were naturalized at some point.
i think what is going on is that most americans want their government to be able to assassinate foreigners-who-are-bad. but they personally don’t want to be assassinated so they (meaning americans) have come up with this assumption that if the government can assassinate people, it can’t assassinate its own people.
It also reinforces the American exceptionalism argument; that Americans are above the law and foreigners are disposable. You heard this a lot during the debate over closing Gitmo; those prisoners are not entitled to Constitutional protections because they’re not Americans. That sounds good on Fox News, but it’s not true: anyone who is arrested under U.S. law is entitled to them, regardless of their citizenship status. (For example, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was read his Miranda rights and released on bail before the charges were dismissed. You can argue that sexual assault isn’t the same as terrorism, but the law is the same; a prisoner gets those rights no matter what his passport says.)
There may be an attempt to justify the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki by claiming that America has more of a right to do it because we’re the victims here. But it still smacks of an arrogance that somehow we’re better than everyone else and we have the God-given right to do whatever we want without having to explain or apologize. That mindset is, to many people, why a lot of people who aren’t Americans attacked us in the first place.