By David K. Shipler
A dozen years ago, the notion that a named American overseas could be legally targeted for death on the say-so of any “informed, high-level official of the U.S. government,” as the Obama administration now argues, would have been patently absurd. The constitutional requisite for due process in which government allegations are challenged and tested and never taken for granted remained largely intact. Only in the heat of combat was the commander in chief entitled to exercise lethal power. Otherwise, death sentences were handed down from the courtroom, not from the Oval Office.
But the country has fallen so far to the right on national security since 9/11 that anything less than autocracy seems reasonable and moderate. So it is with a new proposal, put forth by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, to involve the judiciary in the secret process of assassination. It is a mark of the age that what was once unthinkable becomes sensible. If the rule of law interferes, change the law. But if history is just, it will not judge us kindly.