One of the most controversial national security policies of the Obama administration revolves around the case of radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen living in Yemen. Awlaki is suspected of being engaged in helping inspire and organize terrorist attacks against the United States. More than a year ago, the Obama administration gave the green light to a potential targeted killing of Awlaki, effectively targeting a U.S. citizen for assassination.
As the New York Times reported at the time, “It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said. A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush said he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president.”
Now, in an interview with The Atlantic, GOP Presidential contender Herman Cain was asked about this policy and whether he would also approve of assassinating Americans. Cain at first seemed unaware of the policy, but later affirmed that he believed every American has a right to due process and that we should not be assassinating U.S. citizens:
INTERVIEWER: President Obama has said that he has the authority to assassinate American citizens if he’s declared them an enemy combatant in the War on Terror. Al Awlaki is one guy who is on the official government list where he can be taken out. Do you have any thoughts on that? Is it a good policy because it allows us to take out Americans who may have joined Al Qaeda? Or is it a bad policy -
CAIN: Well first of all, this is the first that I have heard – you’re saying it’s okay to take out American citizens if he suspects they are terrorist related. Is that what you said?!
INTERVIEWER: Yes, that’s what I said.
CAIN: I’ve got to be honest with you. I have not heard that. I had not heard that’s something that he said. I don’t believe that the president of the United States should order the assassination of citizens of the United States. That’s why we have our court system, and that’s why we have our laws. Even if the person is suspected of being affiliated with terrorism, if they are a citizen of this country, they still deserve the rights of this country, which includes due process. Osama bin Laden was not a citizen of the United States of America. So I would not have changed the decision the president made in that regard. But if you’re a citizen, no, it is not right for the president to to think he has the power to have you assassinated. No. He has the power to make sure you’re locked up, but you have to go through due process.
Cain’s position puts him to the left of the Obama administration and many of his Republican colleagues. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), for example, vigorously spoke out against an American Civil Liberties Union legal challenge to the Obama administration’s kill order, saying that the lawsuit would have limited “the Commander in Chief’s options” and “do great damage to our national security.” (HT: @ggreenwald)