[A] single American al Qaeda terrorist in a foreign country actively waging war against us seems to me to be a pretty isolated example. And Obama always said he would fight a war against al Qaeda more ruthlessly than Bush. As he has. I agree that invoking state secrets so comprehensively as to prevent any scrutiny of this is a step way too far. But I do believe we are at war; and that killing those who wish to kill us before they can do so is not the equivalent of "assassination".
Without wanting to get too far into hypothetical weeds does Andrew think it would be fine and dandy for President Obama to order that an American citizen in, say, Edinburgh, be "extraordinarily rendered" to some hellish middle-eastern regime in which he could be tortured to the point at which he divulges whatever he knows? And would it be ok for the state to tell that American's family that "state secrets" means that the government doesn't even have to say why their husband/father/brother/son has been abducted?
al-Awlaki is, given what we know about him, an enemy of the United States. But is that enough? Does that give the United States government the right to behave as though it were the Galtieri or Pinochet regime? Does the President have the right to "disappear" an American citizen? And if he does have that right does he have the right to refuse to say why that person was disappeared? He claims so.
Enemy of the state? Sure. But how is that so very different from dropping someone out of a helicopter over the atlantic ocean? al-Awlaki may be a rotten case study since he seems to be a vile individual but once you begin with him there is, at least theoretically, no end to this.
As Daniel Larison points out:
This administration is making a claim as broad, absurd and offensive as the Bush administration did when it claimed the authority to declare anyone, including U.S. citizens, enemy combatants. The objection that this power is only going to be used against “those who wish to kill us” trusts that the government is never going to abuse its power and that the government is never going to make a mistake. One of the main reasons why we have due process is the assumption that governments routinely abuse their power and frequently make mistakes. Has the last decade of American history already vanished from our memories?