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In-Depth Interview: NY Times Reporter Scott Shane on Drones, Targeted Killings, and the Execution of Awlaki

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Scott Shane’s important new book, Objective Troy, profiles the American imam, Anwar al-Awlaki, details the case against him, and examines the constitutional issues of executing a citizen based on secret evidence and no legal process.Shane has covered these issues for years, and we open with a recap of articles he wrote for the NY Times in 2012 and 2013 about Obama’s secret “kill list” and the legal basis for executing Awlaki.  We note that, unlike previous presidents who maintained “plausible deniability” for dirty deeds and covert actions, Obama personally authorizes most targeted killings.  Shane says that, as CIA Director, Leon Panetta was even more aggressive than John Brennan in deploying drones.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Shane details the case against Awlaki, which was never made by the government, and the legal rationale advanced in a still-redacted white paper from the Office of Legal Counsel.  We talk about the misuse of terms like “imminent” threat and “infeasible” capture, and PBC notes that the presidential oath is to protect and defend the Constitution, not people.  PBC also argues that the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force could not be used to hit al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, which did not exist in 2001.

Shane’s reporting, and the new book, offer all of the elements for a robust debate about drones, targeted killing, and the execution of Awlaki.  Perhaps, someday, that debate will actually happen.

The full title of Shane’s book is Objective Troy: A Terrorist, A President and the Rise of the Drone.