Not too many debates were settled Monday when U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. detailed the Obama administration's decision-making process on targeted killings. Critics were left with as many questions as before, while supporters had a few more things to cheer about. For our part, we're as troubled as ever by drone-based assassinations — and perhaps more concerned that this nation is heading down a dangerous path.
The debates, in large part, are about priorities: At what point does the threat of a terrorist attack justify bypassing constitutional guarantees of due process, not to mention international law? Early in his speech, Holder tipped the administration's hand by suggesting the terrorist threat is truly extraordinary. "As President John F. Kennedy may have described best, 'In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.' ... It is clear that, once again, we have reached an 'hour of danger.'"
Kennedy was talking about the threat of nuclear annihilation; we don't mean to downplay the genuine dangers posed by Al Qaeda and like groups, but they don't rise to this level. And we're uncomfortable with the broad powers Holder asserted for the president to act as judge, jury and executioner for suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens, on the basis of secret evidence.