Targeted Killing

David Cole on the Al Aulaqi Killing

By Benjamin Wittes
Tuesday, November 15, 2011, 7:31 PM

David Cole has this very thoughtful essay on the Anwar Al Aulaqi killing in the New York Review of Books--a very thoughtful essay with a rather loaded opening. Cole's first sentence asks, "When can the president order the execution without trial of an American citizen?" To frame the question this way, of course, is also to answer it. For the president can never order an execution without trial. Conversely, if we frame the question a little differently--say, "When is the president permitted to target overseas with lethal force a menace to the country against whom Congress has authorized the use of force?--the question also answers itself. Fortunately, Cole goes on to acknowledge the complexity of the Al Aulaqi case, and the body of his argument is a call for greater public disclosure of the government's legal rationale for such strikes--a call with which I certainly agree. "In a democracy," he writes, "the state’s power to take the lives of its own citizens, and indeed of any human being, must be subject to democratic deliberation and debate. War of course necessarily involves killing, but it is essential that the state’s power to kill be clearly defined and stated in public—particularly when the definition of the enemy and the lines demarcating war and peace are as murky as they are in the current conflict."