‘Does this mean we join the league of ordinary nations?’

As part of a war on terrorism, an American president is faced with a decision: Kill a suspected terrorist or try to bring him to justice within the recognized laws of the country?

President Obama considering the killing of al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen? No, Jed Bartlett in the NBC drama West Wing.

If yesterday’s killing of Awlaki via a drone strike sounded familiar, it might be because of the eerily similar story line in the NBC series in 2002.

In the episode, defense minister Abdul Shareef of the fictional country Qumar, plans terrorist attacks against the U.S. In the season finale, President Jed Bartlett orders Shareef’s assassination after a fight with his conscience and his chief of staff. (You can scroll ahead to 4:16)

Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald verbalized yesterday in writing about al-Awlaki’s killing what West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin might’ve been thinking in writing his story line about the assassination of Abdul Shareef:

What’s most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar (“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What’s most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government’s new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government.

“I’m not going to have any objection saying the Pledge of Allegiance tomorrow,” President Bartlett’s chief of staff responds to his boss’ reluctance to order the kill.

That mirrors the comment of an unnamed Obama administration official when pressed on the al-Awlaki killing:

“As a general matter, it would be entirely lawful for the United States to target high-level leaders of enemy forces, regardless of their nationality, who are plotting to kill Americans both under the authority provided by Congress in its use of military force in the armed conflict with al-Qaida, the Taliban, and associated forces as well as established international law that recognizes our right of self-defense,” the official said.