About a week ago, in a speech at Northwestern University's law school, Attorney General Eric Holder argued the merits of the president's decision to order the killing of terrorists such as Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda regional commander hiding in Yemen. Born and educated in the United States, al-Awalaki was involved in organizing the attempted attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the "Underwear Bomber," and there is evidence that he actively influenced 9/11 conspirators and Nidal Hasan, the man who murdered 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009.
In September of last year, al-Awlaki was killed by missiles launched from American drone aircraft, now the weapon of choice against America's terrorist enemies. But critics of these activities argue that no matter how important it is to protect the country, the Constitution prohibits us from these kinds of attacks.
Some of the opponents have argued that we shouldn't be killing anybody using stealthy means, but there seems to be little support for this line of reasoning, among either professionals who study this sort of thing or the public generally. For most of those who are opposed, there seem to be two related objections. First, they say that while the exigencies of national security may justify eliminating enemies, in no case should we kill American citizens, even abroad. And second, the Fifth Amendment precludes taking life, liberty or property without due process of law.
It is interesting that the Fifth Amendment does not make a distinction between Americans and anybody else, and it affords its protection from the government to all persons. To be true to the letter of the Amendment, however, one would have to be opposed to attacks on anyone, but there isn't much support to use the Constitution to protect everybody everywhere.
There is also a practical motivation to be selective in the use of deadly force against specific individuals. Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei and North Korea's Kim Jong-un are tempting targets, among the most dangerous and distasteful people currently breathing, but the reason they are still alive is not that we think they should have American Constitutional protection. Instead, because there is wider danger in exterminating the leaders of nations, no matter how illegitimately they hold their offices, we tend to use violent, covert means on non-state actors like terrorists rather than on presidents-for-life. Second, there is little enthusiasm among the electorate for being the world's waste management specialist, ridding the globe of every odious despot we can. We have not been particularly successful at doing it---we tried to kill Castro with an exploding cigar, of all things---and when repulsive leaders have been deposed, we haven't liked their replacements very much.
Of course, we do not want our government to over-reach, to go from killing our sworn enemies to killing people who only may be enemies to killing people who are merely enemies of the decision-maker. Anyway, the White House doesn't have the last word; Congress does. Capitol Hill can start or stop any policy it chooses because it has both oversight and control of the one thing without which nothing happens: money. If anybody has a complaint about American policy, the fastest way to affect it is to get the attention of people who every few years need the approval of their constituents just to stay employed.
As for the Attorney General, lawyers are trained to make fine distinctions in language, and Holder seemed very comfortable parsing the Fifth Amendment. There is a difference, he reasoned, between due process, which the Constitution requires, and justice, which it can't possibly guarantee. For the majority of Americans, however, the president's decision to eliminate a weasel like al-Awlaki is due process enough.