Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Foreign Affairs

Name That Attorney General

U.S. military and intelligence agencies can legally kill American citizens overseas if they are al Qaeda leaders who pose an imminent threat to the United States and cannot be captured.

If you attribute the sentiment to George W. Bush-appointed attorneys general John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales or Michael Mukasey, you're barking up the wrong tree. The ultra-conservative, unilateralist, war-mongering thesis belongs to none other than Obama's own Eric Holder.

His comments mark the first time that a Cabinet member has addressed directly the legal justification for last year's U.S. drone strike on American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

I have been critical of Holder's tenure as attorney general, particularly in regard to his seemingly racist view of civil rights in light of the Black Panthers litigation, his politically-motivated opposition to Arizona's immigration law and the still-stonewalled Fast and Furious debacle. His arrogance and thin-skinned spitefulness have also failed to ingratiate the man to my fond reflections.

But today - to the dismay of liberals everywhere - Holder is correct.

"'Due process' and 'judicial process' are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security," Mr. Holder said. "The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process."

Holder went so far as to confirm pre-emptive drone attacks against American citizens anywhere in the world as necessary and constitutional:

"When such individuals take up arms against this country - and join al Qaeda in plotting attacks designed to kill their fellow Americans - there may be only one realistic and appropriate response.  We must take steps to stop them - in full accordance with the Constitution.  In this hour of danger, we simply cannot afford to wait until deadly plans are carried out - and we will not."

Like military tribunals and enhanced interrogation techniques, pre-emptive strikes are just the latest example of Obama's grudging adoption of Bush-era policies for the Global War on Terror. Not that Obama will admit - or the media will report - this continuing trend. The only question remains: Did Obama know that he was lying when he criticized these policies as a candidate, or was he truly so naive that he wasn't aware that they were necessary for American national security?

For a fine dissection of Holder's speech, see Lawfare's commentary.

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