In the aftermath of the killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki on Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was pressed by ABC News' Jake Tapper to explain the legality behind the assassination of an American citizen.
The death of cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen on Friday was broadly seen as a successful strike against the remnants of the Al Qaeda network and a win for the U.S. military, and for U.S. technological applications in drone attack capabilities.
However, Al-Awlaki's American citizenship brought an unwanted stickiness to the assassination, and it was this awkwardness and the legalities behind this awkwardness that drove Republican presidential candidate Congressman Ron Paul to denounce the killing altogether, as The Atlantic reported.
But Paul's assertion is centered in the markers laid down by the U.S. Constitution, and these same markers were the underpinnings of the pressure placed on White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Friday by ABC News reporter Jake Tapper.
"You said that Al-Awlaki was 'demonstrably and provably involved in the operations,'" Tapper began.
Carney sidestepped the legality of "provable" instantly, instead citing that it has been "well-established" by the Obama administration and the Bush administration before it that Al-Awlaki was a leader in the Al Qaeda organization.
"Do you plan on bringing before the public any proof of these charges," Tapper asked.
Carney declined the question. However, Tapper would not let the matter be dropped and pressed harder. And while again and again the press secretary refused to address the question, the legality of the strike seemed to loom larger in the room with each dodged question.
"Do you not see at all, does the administration not see at all how a president asserting that he has the right to kill an American citizen without due process, and that he's not going to even explain why he thinks he has that right is troublesome to some people," Tapper asked.
"I'm not going to, from any angle, discuss the circumstances of his death," Carney said.
The exchange was testy and tense, and while President Obama had positioned the Al-Awlaki operation as a "major blow" against Al Qaeda, the fact that he was born in America brought with it certain representational rights that do not appear easy for the White House to weave around.
"Do you know that the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU tried to get permission to represent Al-Awlaki. His father had asked them to do that," Tapper said. "But they needed to get permission from the Treasury Department so that they could challenge his being on this targeted killing list, and the Obama administration refused to let them represent him. He couldn't even have the ACLU representing him."
"I would take those questions to Treasury," Carney said dismissively. "I don't have anything for you."
"What do you think Constitutional law professor Barack Obama would make of this," Tapper asked.
"I think he spoke about it today," Carney concluded.