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    "You must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision." T. Jefferson

Who can authorize a citizen to die?

Posted by Free to Think on January 10, 2012

How would you answer the following: “Under what circumstances, if any, would the Constitution permit the president to authorize the targeted killing of a United States citizen who has not been sentenced to death by a court?”

The New York Times submitted this question to each of the major presidential candidates.

The discussion here is not about imprisonment—we’re talking about death. Without due process. In other words, without the ability to defend oneself.

The question posed by The New York Times even specifically asked when “the Constitution would permit” the president to authorize the killing of an American citizen without trial.

Newt Gingrich answered, “Under wartime circumstances.” Well, since the U.S. is officially engaged in an indefinite War on Terror, that isn’t very limiting. “If such an individual is engaged on a battlefield it would be irresponsible not to kill him,” says John Huntsman. This wouldn’t restrict President Huntsman from killing someone anywhere in the United States, since the new National Defense Authorization Act deems the U.S. homeland part of the “battlefield” of the War on Terror.

Rick Perry says, “The Constitution clearly vests in the President…an absolute duty, to protect the nation when vital American security interests are at stake. The President would be so authorized…where a citizen has joined or is associated with a nation or group engaged in hostilities against the United States.”  Opines Mitt Romney, “Due process permits the use of deadly force against all enemy combatants, including citizens, who engage in acts of war against the United States on behalf of an enemy of the United States. U.S. citizens have no right to affiliate themselves with al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups plotting attacks against our country.”

This language is frighteningly vague. Vague terms are dangerous because they leave open-ended opportunities for misuse. What’s the definition of a “vital American security interest?” Is it possible that “a citizen associated with a nation or group engaged in hostilities against the United States” is a phrase that could be abused?

What specifically is an “act of war” that would deem assassination?

Can any of these terms be found in the Constitution, or is there any other language referring to the president’s authority to kill American citizens?

Ron Paul had the most clear and concise answer as to what kind of circumstance would permit the president to order the death of an American: “None.” In no way does the Constitution indicate that the president can ever authorize the targeted killing of a United States citizen who has not been sentenced to death by a court.

President Obama did not submit an answer.

Here are their answers in full.

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