When the U.S. government says it can be legal to kill a U.S. citizen without trial, the justification for that life-or-death power shouldn't be shrouded in secrecy.

Before American Anwar al-Awlaki was put on the administration's capture or kill list in 2010, it drafted a memo spelling out a legal rationale for his execution, which occurred on Sept. 30 in a U.S. drone attack in Yemen. The White House should release that memo, so the public can decide whether the rationale for killing a U.S. citizen, even a terrorist leader, is acceptable.

Al-Awlaki was a leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. He likely played a role in plotting the Detroit underwear bombing, the murders at Fort Hood and the attempted Times Square car bombing. We're all safer with him gone. But whether it is legal for the government to kill U.S. citizens shouldn't be decided based on the desire to rid the world of one bad actor.

It's a remarkable amount of power for the government to possess. That's why the United States has an executive order banning assassinations, a law against Americans murdering Americans abroad, and a Constitution that prohibits the government taking a life without due process of law.

President Barack Obama may have a compelling case that killing al-Awlaki was lawful, and the American people are predisposed to accept his reasoning in this time of war. But he needs to make the case publicly for such a momentous decision. hN


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