The first thing to say about today’s long-belated New York Times editorial on the Al-Aulaqi killing–and the memo justifying it–is that it is not a ridiculous document, and I’m not going to ridicule it. It does not flamboyantly contradict the paper’s past statements. It does not willfully misstate the law. It does not pervasively confuse the Times‘s contemporary policy views with the Constitution (though it doesn’t entirely separate the two either). To put the matter simply, it would not beat Jacob Sternberger’s entry in my little competition to parody New York Times editorials on national security law.
So let’s take it seriously, and go through it idea-by-idea as a statement of conventional liberal opinion.
The editorial begins with measured praise for the reported OLC memo justifying a hypothetical Al-Aulaqi strike, calling it “a detailed and cautious memorandum,” and a “refreshing change from the reckless legal thinking of the Bush administration, which rationalized torture, claimed unlimited presidential powers and drove the country’s fight against terrorists off the rails.”