Friday, September 30, 2011

it says "person", not "citizen"

while i agree with glenn greenwald that the al-awlaki killing has crossed a new line for the u.s., i don't understand why people are so focused on the fact that al-awlaki is an american citizen. 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.

and yet, when criticism of targeted killing comes up, it always seems to focus on citizenship. i'm not sure where that distinction comes from. it's also interesting that the people who call themselves "strict constructionists" seem to have no issue at all with targeted killings.

ADDING: 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. for lack of any better basis for that idea, they point to the due process clause of the fifth amendment. the idea has a sort of common-sense appeal to it, that seems even more sensible the more commentators that adopt that assumption.

the problem is that the citizen/non-citizen distinction doesn't exist in that clause. the targeted killing of osama bin laden is just as unconstitutional as the targeted killing of any american. i don't see any textual basis for coming to any different conclusion.