Death from Above

The Executive Branch's Targeted Killing of United States Citizens in the War on Terror

On September 30, 2011, the Obama administration announced the death of alleged terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, the first U.S. citizen to be the subject of a targeted drone strike. While targeted killings are not a recent development in the international community, they have been increasingly utilized following the events of September 11, 2001, and the United States’ subsequent War on Terror. Embroiled in an asymmetric war against a network of nonstate actors, the United States has increasingly relied upon targeted killings to defend against terrorist threats. The addition of U.S. citizens to government “kill-lists,” however, raises troubling questions regarding due process and separation of powers. This Note discusses the recent historical background and constitutional considerations relevant to targeted killings, and analyzes the inadequate constitutional protections currently employed by an overly powerful executive branch. In light of these concerns, this Note ultimately recommends that the executive branch adopt a new form of judicial review that allows a neutral decision maker to review evidence and ensure that decisions to target U.S. citizens are justified, thereby preventing errors and providing targeted citizens with a minimum level of due process.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.