10/03/2011 12:06 pm ET | Updated Nov 03, 2011

A Pyrrhic Victory

The United States' extra-judicial killing of United States citizen Anwar al-Awlaki off the battlefield and unengaged in active hostilities against the United States was as lawless as was Russian President Vladimir Putin's extra-judicial killing by poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London, which was condemned by the United States. The al-Awlaki precedent will lie around like a loaded weapon ready for use against any American anywhere in the world, including in the United States itself. Its frightening legal premise is that all the world's a constructive battlefield where military force and military law can be employed against any suspected enemy of the United States--citizen and alien alike--on the President's say so alone. The United States itself is now a candidate for military law and military force by presidential decree.

Even Adolph Eichmann, complicit in the Holocaust, received a due process trial before a civilian court in Jerusalem before execution by Israel.

In a nation that treasured both the rule of law and a common defense, al-Awlaki would have been indicted by a federal grand jury for material assistance to a foreign terrorist organization and subjected to an Eichmann-like kidnapping and trial held in a civilian court with all the trappings of due process. If al-Awlaki had sought to elude capture and his escape would have created a significant risk of physical harm to third parties, deadly force could have been employed against him by the FBI or the United States military under the United States Supreme Court's decision in Tennessee v. Garner. The Constitution is not a suicide pact. Its genius has been to accommodate due process, liberty, and safety in an equilibrium which is the hallmark of civilization. The al-Awlawki precedent, in contrast, crucifies the Constitution on a bogus national security cross.