U.S. Government Assassination Program for U.S. Citizens


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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14 Responses

  1. Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

    You make a very good point.

    I have a question though, if this Awlaki person were say an Afghani or Saudi citizen would the assassination order bother you? For example I would be 100% ok with bombing Osama Bin Laden if we knew where he was and it was going to be too difficult to capture him.

    Is citizenship such a shield that it would protect Osama or are you arguing that Awlaki is not yet demonstrated as enough of a threat?Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:


      To Clarify, I feel that the government should attempt to indict Awlaki if they feel that they have sufficient evidence. The question after that point is what the government should do if he cannot be captured.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:


        If only they indicted him! Instead, they’ve decreed a punishment — death — without any form of trial.

        How would I feel if the same were done to a non-citizen? In a sense, the question is irrelevant. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that assassinating a citizen is a grave violation of the constitution, and one that all citizens should take seriously. I worry that in this context, dwelling on how we treat noncitizens serves only to attaint Mr. Awlaki.

        I will say this, however: It was for a very long time the stated policy of the U.S. government not to engage in the assassination of foreign nationals. That changed with the last administration, for better or worse.Report

        • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

          @Jason Kuznicki,

          The reason I ask the non-citizen question is I don’t really see that part as the big deal. I mean Awlaki has the same human rights(which don’t appear to be being respected) without regard to his citizenship. We are talking about a civilian(maybe not but no-one has demonstrated that). I simply don’t get why the American citizen part gets people so wound-up. It doesn’t affect my judgment on the case.

          1) This is wrong and crazy.
          2) If they want to do this they should have to show someone some evidence under a legal regime.
          3) This scares me but not nearly as much as the people who say Obama isn’t going far enough.. I don’t even want to think what they would do.
          4) At least we aren’t planning on torturing the guy.
          5) If he is who they say he is I’m ok with him being dead since I understand they are claiming that he is helping attacks such as the one at ft. hood to occur. But someone needs to actually prove this not simply assert it. I would also prefer to capture him alive and not execute him period.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    At least he doesn’t talk with a funny accent.

    “Let me be perfectly clear!”

    See? You sat up a little straighter just thinking about how urbane he was compared to his predecessor!

    Ah, it’s so nice being ruled by one of *US*.Report

  3. It’s hard to believe this is happening. And it’s been said before, but it needs to be said again: we’d never grant that China or Iran or Canada has the right to kill its own citizens on our soil, right? So why can the United States assert this privilege for itself?Report

  4. Avatar cfpete says:

    On this one, I will not accept High Broderism.
    I don not recall any elected Republican demanding the assassination of Awlaki. Hell, if even some of the crazy bastards at National Review question this: Kevin D. Williamson– then something is very very wrong. (“Some” – Andy McCarthy would probably support a shoot first policy for people passing gas in the security line at the airport.)

    If your principles are such that your reaction to empty rhetoric from a powerless minority is to order assassination, then what principles do you have?

    At some point you have to wonder if this is what people in the administration actually believe.Report

  5. Avatar Larry Signor says:

    “…what’s the next step after assassinating American citizens?”


  6. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I tend to find I don’t have much to add to the substance of these matters, because my inclination is always to open debate rather than pile on, and even though I think there actually are legitimate things to say on various sides of questions like this, neverthess, they still don’t muddy the basic question, which really couldn’t be any clearer (i.e., of course I agree with Jason).

    So instead I’ll just revert to my second perverse inclination, which is to reflect on the crass politics of these weighty moral and legal questions. An earlier time that this came up here I mused about what the balance of interests for the president are that can lead to such decisionmaking, and Thompson said he thought it was clearly just a need to be seen as ‘tough on terrorism.’ I begged off, but I have to say I just don’t see that to be nearly so clear, at least as the primary reason. As far as I can see, Obama has done plenty, from escalating in Afghanistan, to keeping GTMO alive and running to continuing with various other Bush administration policies, to protect himself from having to absorb major blows on security toughness (The punches are always and constantly being thrown, but they don’t tend to land because the seem craven rather than based in reality.), to avoid needing to up the ante in such a legally dubious (to put it charitably) way as this purely (or even primarily) for reasons of political optics. In fact, given his political base, if anything he’s moved too far in a bellicose direction for his political purposes at least as I would assess this. The political benefit of revealing Awlaki’s presence on the hit list (done under oath before Congressional committee by a since-terminated Director of National Intelligence who was by all accounts far outside the president’s inner circle from the beginning) seems quite dubious to me.

    Obversely, by not doing a few of these things (considering/authorizing/ordering extrajudicial assassinations of Americans, institutionalizing indefinite detention, …things like that) it seems to me (and I could be just dreaming this up) that he would potentially open up space for at least some people with view like those of most of the folks here for example to perhaps take the occasional second look at his broad policy profile in these areas. On the other hand, perhaps he figures that the same people for whom the Awlaki authorization is a major concern are simply lost causes from the perspective of earning such a second look based on the rest of the record, with or without putting Americans on the hit list. (In my view, this reveals something of a problem in our democratic model, as it leaves little room for officials to gain positive feedback for marginal right steps from constituencies who tend to link individual questions under broader headings and form opnions on issue areas in the aggregate, even if it’s just for not doing something that he ought not to do. Clearly this could also be framed as a problem of integrity in officeholders as well.)

    Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem to me, though I could be wrong, that there is much of a ‘security mom’-type constituency for placing American citizens on due-process-free assassination lists, whom he would suddenly lose if he elected to side with the Consitution (and, yes, from the perspective of the Office of the President it does matter under the Constitution, though not to the point of making extrajudicial assassination necessarily legal, whether you are a) an American citizen or not, and b) outside or inside the the United States). It seems to me rather more likely that the president is responding to supposedly “expert” advice from Serious (I can’t stand Greenwald’s out-of-control Teutonic capitalization fetish, but it has its merits in spots) counterterrorism advisers inside the administration, the fear of political consequences in the case of a catastrophic attack coming after having “failed to act” (regardless of any connection between such an attack and the action in question; this is quite a distinct concern from generic concern about being perceived as “tough” in the current political climate, which I take to be Mark’s contention about the genesis of such action), all in the face of a lack of internal advocacy (such being admittedly entirely his responsibility to emplace and empower) and real external stimulus (opposition party pushing in pro-presidential power direction, substantial portion of own party pushing similarly but with some limited oversight, and long ago having lost any support and earned the enmity of the civil-liberties community, with no prospect for earning back their allegiance) pushing for Constitutional imperatives against such advice. Call that politics if you like, but I see the picture as rather more complicated than simply being driven by concern about being perceived as tough on security.Report