The Imperial Presidency: Drone Power and Congressional Oversight

The Imperial Presidency: Drone Power and Congressional Oversight

On Sept. 30, 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki was riding in a convoy in northern Yemen’s al-Jawf province with several other suspected members of the terrorist group al-Qaida. Awlaki, a Yemeni cleric, had long been on a so-called kill list of terrorist leaders targeted by the U.S. government for elimination. On that day, two Predator drones operating in the skies above fired seven Hellfire missiles, killing Awlaki and, among others, a colleague named Samir Khan.

In itself, the killing was simply another skirmish in the 10-year U.S.-led war on terror, which since Sept. 11, 2001, has stretched from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Far East to the Horn of Africa and now the Arabian Peninsula.

Yet what made the Awlaki killing particularly remarkable was that the target was an American citizen, as was Samir Khan, and thus one whose rights are nominally protected under the due process safeguards afforded by the U.S. Constitution. Yet, according to the White House, the U.S. had legal justification for the attack. As the New York Times reported earlier this year, “The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) prepared a lengthy memo . . . asserting that while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”

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