President Barack Obama promptly announced the kill: "The death of Awlaki is a major blow to al-Qaida's most active operational affiliate. He took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans ... and he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda." Nowhere did Obama mention that either man was an American citizen.
Last Saturday, Obama announced that the United States had traded five Taliban terrorist leaders in exchange for American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. As the days passed, it became clear that Bergdahl was no American hero: he was, in fact, a deserter.
He left a note at his base in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, stating that he hated the military; he emailed his father stating that he hated America. Reports a year later from the U.K. Daily Mail stated that Bergdahl was teaching the Taliban bomb-making and had converted to Islam.
When asked about these problematic issues, Obama immediately signaled that Bergdahl's status as an American was an overriding factor in bartering terrorists for his release. "Whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he's held in captivity. Period. Full stop," Obama lectured.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also jumped into the act: "This young man, whatever the circumstances, was an American citizen — is an American citizen — was serving in our military. The idea that you really care for your own citizens and particularly those in uniform, I think is a very noble one."
The point here is not that Bergdahl should have been droned, or that al-Awlaki shouldn't have been. The point is that the president of the United States now has the apparent authority to determine whether or not someone deserves to live — indeed, whether he deserves to be hit with a Hellfire missile or whether we should exchange high-level terrorists for him. And no one can stop the president in such decision-making. He is the judge, jury, and either executioner or savior. He is all-powerful.
This should be frightening to anyone with a modicum of common sense. American citizenship is now, apparently, a malleable commodity. Vice President Joe Biden believes that illegal immigrants are citizens. Obama believes that some Americans who join Islamist groups are citizens, while others are not. Who is an American? Whomever the executive branch deems an American. Who isn't? It depends on whether Obama ate his Wheaties or not.
Either American citizenship counts for something, or it does not. Either joining America's enemies strips you of your rights, or it does not. But when the president of the United States can arbitrarily decide whether or not those rights have been stripped, all of our rights have been stripped.