Treason is a crime
Whatever kind of conservatism is arguing that we should invest the president with sole, secret, unreviewable authority to order the assassination of U.S. citizens because the alternative is unworkable (!) in the considered view of John Tabin, because war exists (!) — I am not that kind of conservative, I suppose. I propose we call that school of thought ahistorical, morally illiterate conservatism.
We’ve had wars for a long time without authorizing the premeditated extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizens. Treason is a crime. You get charged with it, dragged into court, tried by a jury of your peers, etc. The penalty for treason is not assassination without trial, and there is nothing in our Constitution or tradition to suggest that it is. This seems to me a deeply foolish and ill-considered argument.
It’s also worth noting that al-Awlaki mostly is accused of being a propagandist — giving sermons, writing articles, and otherwise behaving as “the bin Laden of the Internet,” as he is known. You want to try him for treason or inciting terrorist violence, I’m content to see him hang. If our covert-ops guys light up some al-Qaeda redoubt in the mountains and al-Awlaki bites the dust, no tears from me. But those are very different things from having the U.S. government draw up a list of its own citizens to be targeted for assassination. The fact that the Obama administration went out of its way to make this fact public tells us something interesting, too: It is making a specific political point, and establishing a specific precedent. It is crossing an old and important line, and conservatives should never let the rule of unintended consequences be very far from our minds
Amen to that.