Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek declared last Thursday that he believes President Obama “absolutely” has the right to authorize the assassination of an American citizen, a controversial power the Obama Administration has asserted in recent months.

The Atlantic‘s Max Fisher reported in February on testimony from Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair in which Blair told Congress that “the U.S. can target Americans to be killed if it believes they are involved in terrorism.” Fisher referred to an earlier Washington Post story that revealed the administration possessed a “shortlist of U.S. citizens specifically targeted for killing or capture,” and that it had added the New Mexico-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki — currently hiding in Yemen, according to The New York Times — to the list.

Fisher’s piece raises questions about the criteria by which American authorities decide if a citizen should be targeted:

It would be one thing if [al-Awlaki’s activity] implied criminal or even military charges, because at least those allow a judge to evaluate the evidence and the accused to mount a defense. But in the current scheme, the accused does not even know he is accused, nor does an independent judge approve the White House’s decision. That person is simply killed.

No one is arguing that Awlaki isn’t a dangerous and bad person. But if he meets the criteria for targeted and unreviewed killing by the White House, it is a shocking indication of just how broad those criteria have become. More to the point, it is a reminder that, without congressional oversight or court approval, the White House is free to rewrite those criteria at any time it chooses and to reinterpret them in any way it sees fit.

In a letter sent to President Obama on April 28 (which you can read in full or download below), American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero called the targeted assassination of American citizens “unconstitutional” and asked Obama to “reject out of hand a program that would invest the CIA or the U.S. military with the unchecked authority to impose an extrajudicial death sentence on U.S. citizens.”

When asked at a candidate forum held in Sarasota Thursday afternoon if he believes President Obama does indeed possess the authority to order the assassination of an American citizen, Meek responded affirmatively. “If it’s in defense of our men and women in harm’s way, and he makes the decision to take someone out, absolutely,” Meek responded.

Romero’s letter:

ACLU Letter to President Obama

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