I actually agree with Sullivan that this is substantively different from how we treat people in U.S. custody, but I think he's largely missing the point with his reminders that al-Awlaki is a really terrible human being. No one is arguing that he isn't. The question here is whether or not the government has the authority to kill an American citizen apart from any declared battlefield based on secret, internal deliberations that a judge will never be allowed to look at. But the fact that as principled a person as Sullivan on matters of executive power is swayed by the argument that al-Awlaki is simply a vile individual who deserves to die is a reminder of how isolated opponents of targeted killing actually are.
That's a ridiculous distortion of my position. I don't know whether Awlaki is a terrible human being. I do know he has targeted for death writers and cartoonists and has been deeply enmeshed with recent attempts to kill many Americans in what he believes is a war. Moreover, Yemen surely is a "declared battlefield" – at least as far as al Qaeda is concerned. Awlaki is currently issuing death threats against Americans who have had to go into hiding and is connected with several recent terror attacks. According to Nick Baumann, Goldblog sides with Greenwald. From Baumann's "edited notes"on Jeffrey's remarks:
I don't think enough proof has been presented that [al-Awlaki] is an actual operator of terrorist cells, that he's actually directing the actual murder of others. I think he's fundamentally functioning as a propagandist…. The Israelis have never conducted an assassination against an Israeli citizen…. It would be interesting to look at what the Israel Supreme Court might say about the Prime Minister-directed killing of someone considered to be a terrorist, an Israeli citizen. I have a feeling, maybe I'm crazy, that there might be a more active judicial debate and Knesset debate on that than we have here.
… I don't want to be represented by a government that without judicial and congressional oversight and the benefit of courts decides to assassinate an american citizen. What I'm saying is I'd like to see more evidence….
I'd prefer an open administration argument as to the evidence linking Awlaki directly to terrorist murder. Baumann then writes that Goldblog's "position seems to clash with that of Andrew Sullivan, his fellow blogger and Atlantic colleague. Sullivan doesn't seem to have many serious qualms about the government killing al-Awlaki. " I have many qualms, and would prefer evidence against Awlaki to made public in court. Which I think is Jeffrey's position. From my long post on al-Awlaki:
I agree that the Obama administration's decision to shut down inspection of the evidence behind the decision to regard Awlaki as someone waging an active war against the US under "state secrets" is a step way too far. I think the president has a duty to explain in court why he believes this person must be treated as an active enemy at war with the US, and therefore treated as all such enemies in wartime as someone to be killed. Instead, they have told us much in the press, but not backed it up in court. I strongly disagree with this, and think reiterating in court what is already in the public domain could help, not hurt them. I will gladly join with Glenn and everyone else in this in demanding this invocation of state secrets end. I regard it as a core betrayal of Obama's campaign, just as I believe his refusal even to give torture victims a day in court on the same grounds is a war crime itself.
Nonetheless, I think Awlaki is a dangerous terrorist and traitor acting in a war zone trying to engage in mass murder. If he cannot be captured, he is a legitimate target for killing.