Domestically, most critics of the administration’s drone program have no love lost for Anwar Al‐Awlaki. He was the American citizen, online propagandist, and recruiter for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who allegedly (all secret evidence) sought to use cyanide to poison Western water and food supplies, and attack American citizens. When the U.S. government drone‐bombed Awlaki in September 2011, it was the first time an American citizen was targeted for death without being formally charged with a crime, without being allowed to contest the evidence against him in court and without being convicted at trial. The drone‐bombing was in accordance with the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.
The Obama administration and its drone policy supporters have argued that Awlaki forfeited his Fifth Amendment protections—which guarantee that a citizen’s life or liberty cannot be deprived without Due Process of law—because he plotted to kill Americans. But however evil Awlaki was, drone‐bombing advocates’ preoccupation with him misses the point.
Since 9/11, Republican and Democratic administrations have been hiding their warfare procedures behind a veil of classification and bureaucracy while steadily increasing their ability to both spy on the private communication of American citizens and kill people based on the president’s sole discretion. The judgment of Congress and the president was intended to inform major decisions on foreign policy and national defense in order to protect the rights and liberties of Americans under the Constitution. When secrecy shields government accountability and transparency, it short circuits our democratic process. Currently, the U.S. government operates in the absence of checks and balances when the president and his lawyers can claim that the courts and the Congress cannot rule or set standards on whether its robust executive power violates constitutionally protected Due Process rights. The collateral damage unleashed on foreign civilians by means of war is egregious, but the altering of the structure of institutions dedicated to protecting our liberties is yet another upsetting implication of our permanent state of war.