The fact is that the entire US program of extra-judicial assassinations by drone requires a bit more study and debate, but this is especially true when the targets are US citizens. In that case, the Constitution comes into play, and the right of due process of the law. But we never really had such a debate when Anwar al-Awlaki was targeted for death by the US government, and now that the assassination has been carried out, it’s too late:

A missile fired from an American drone aircraft in Yemen on Friday killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric who was a leading figure in Al Qaeda’s affiliate there, according to an official in Washington.

Many of the details of the strike were unclear, but the official said that the drone fired a Hellfire missile and killed Mr. Awlaki, whom the United States had been hunting in Yemen for more than two years.

Yemen’s Defense Ministry confirmed Mr. Awlaki’s death, and both Yemeni and American officials hailed the strike as a significant success in the campaign to weaken Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group American officials believe to be the most dangerous Qaeda affiliate.

The Obama administration has escalated military and intelligence operations in Yemen, and the White House decision to make Mr. Awlaki a top priority to be hunted down and killed was controversial, given his American citizenship.

Yes, “controversial” is a nice, anodyne word for the assumed right of the government to play judge, jury and executioner of a US citizen.

We’ll hear this was necessary because of Awlaki’s operational role, and his part played in the Fort Hood massacre and the Christmas Day bombing attempt. In reality, many experts saw Awlaki as a public figurehead, a man who could speak in front of a video camera and therefore was magnified in the US public’s mind as some sort of leader. He was a guy with a YouTube account rather than an operational leader of Al Qaeda.

And now that he’s dead from a drone missile strike, it’s too late to wrestle with the question of whether a US citizen should be designated as a candidate for assassination by a murky process with no checks or balances. The President and leading counter-terrorism officials just decide who should be marked for death, and then robot planes carry it out. That slope is so slippery I’m assuming the BP Deepwater Horizon well is nearby.

Glenn Greenwald has a lot more on this at his site. A taste:

Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President’s ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki — including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry’s execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists — criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed.

From an authortarian perspective, that’s the genius of America’s political culture. It not only finds way to obliterate the most basic individual liberties designed to safeguard citizens from consummate abuses of power (such as extinguishing the lives of citizens without due process). It actually gets its citizens to stand up and clap and even celebrate the destruction of those safeguards.

UPDATE: A second American citizen, Samir Khan, has reportedly been killed in the attack.