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Terror Cleric's Father's Lawsuit May Spur Needed Debate

Radical American-Yemeni Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki has been linked to al-Qaida and deemed a national security threat to the United States. (AP)

Our colleague Dina Temple-Raston's report this morning that the father of Muslim cleric and alleged terrorist leader Anwar al-Awlaki has hired lawyers to try and get his son's name off a CIA target list was nothing short of intriguing.

After all, al-Awlaki who is thought to be hiding in Yemen, made news recently when he surfaced on a video urging the killing of Americans, saying Americans brought it on themselves when they elected President Barack Obama.

That alone makes it difficult for a lot of Americans to view him with any empathy or as deserving to have his constitutional rights as an American citizen protected.

What makes this case so fascinating is that it pits national security imperatives -- the need to protect Americans by killing or capturing those who advocate, inspire or plot violence on them -- against the notion that the U.S. is a nation under law.

While many Americans, if not most, have no empathy for the U.S.-born al-Awlaki, they are more than a little fond of the notion that the U.S. government is bound by the Constitution, even when the result isn't the preferred solution.

If nothing else, should a lawsuit by Nasser al-Awlaki eventually get heard in federal court, it would allow a further airing of one of the most challenging policy debates of the day.

Not the least of the questions it would force us to spend more time thinking about is just how far can the U.S. government go in protecting its citizens? Is extrajudicial killings of its own citizens over the line or not?

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