And we were worried about waterboarding?

Now that the Obama administration has upped the ante in the war on terror, the Bush-era policies of detention and so-called "torture" look downright tame by comparison. Anwar al-Awlaki, after all, wasn't a foreign national apprehended on the field of battle, sent to Guantanamo as an unlawful enemy combatant and roughed up a bit.

No, the radical cleric was, not to put too fine a point on it, assassinated by executive authority, the power of which to target an American citizen is apparently unreviewable by the courts. Can you imagine the howls of outrage had this occurred during the Bush administration?

Yet, the only protests we've seen from the left in the past two weeks were against Wall Street.

To be sure, the world is better off without some fanatic hiding behind religion to incite violence from what heretofore was a safe distance in Yemen. But thanks to the Democrat double standard, legitimate concerns over what's become of due process in a perpetual war on terror may be left to libertarian-minded conservatives.

Though the administration believed the intelligence from both U.S. and Yemeni sources was sufficient enough to unleash a CIA drone equipped with a Hellfire missile on the caravan carrying Al-Awlaki and another Al-Qaida propagandist who happened to be American, we don't know the details because much of the case remains classified.

What we do know is that Al-Awlaki contacts with Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan as well as with the would-be "underwear bomber" were enough to put him on the administration's secret hit list. And leaks suggest that Al-Awlaki was "directly involved" in the plots, so there is little doubt that at some point his free-speech lunacy morphed into a larger danger.

The operative question, however, is whether his conduct was an act of war or indeed a conspiracy to commit a crime. If it's the latter, then it remains entirely incumbent on the administration to justify such an extrajudicial act against any citizen whom officials unilaterally consider a "terrorist."

Especially so considering the carelessness with which that word is thrown around these days by both sides of the aisle.

Proponents of unrestricted presidential war powers cite a congressional authorization to use force against "terrorism," an open-ended abdication of legislative responsibility. They also cite historical precedent, including the Civil War. But even Abraham Lincoln's most ardent admirers have yet to figure out what to make of his use of martial law, including the suspension of habeas corpus and the jailing of Northerners merely sympathetic to the Confederate cause.

In 1942, the Supreme Court did indeed uphold the executions of a select group of unlawful enemy combatants, at least one of whom was an American citizen. But the justices in the Ex parte Quirin case did so only after the captured German saboteurs were granted a modicum of due process in the form of a military tribunal.

It seems more than a bit ironic that not long ago antiwar critics were apoplectic over the gathering of intelligence on an American without a FISA warrant, whereas the killing of Al-Awlaki, however depraved he might have been, results in a bipartisan circling of the wagons around the commander-in-chief.

The best you can say for the neoconservatives who dominate foreign-policy thinking in the GOP is at least they have consistency on their side. The silence from establishment Democrats, including Minnesota's two U.S. senators, speaks volumes about how sincere they are about not only the war on terror but perhaps their constitutional duties as well.

Who knows, maybe the Obama administration cynically believes that using drone strikes to take out enemy combatants at least relives of it having to debate the thorny issue of detainees and interrogation methods. But at some point the nation must decide when a war ends and criminal prosecution begins, and at that point we'll all be better served if those who threaten us with violence are apprehended and tried under the rule of law.

Jason Lewis is a nationally syndicated talk-show host based in Minneapolis-St. Paul and is the author of "Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States' Rights" from Bascom Hill Publishing. He can be heard from 5 to 8 p.m. weekdays on NewsTalk Radio (1130 AM) or online at