Greenwald lays out in detail why Panetta, not to mention Obama, is completely wrong on the law and possibly wrong on the key fact, i.e., Awlaki's being a terrorist. The central premise of Greenwald's argument, though, is incontestable:
Here we have the U.S. Defense Secretary, life-long Democrat Leon Panetta, telling you as clearly as he can that this is exactly the operating premise of the administration in which he serves: once the President accuses you of being a Terrorist, a decision made in secert and with no checks or due process, we can do anything we want to you, including executing you wherever we find you. It’s hard to know what’s more extraordinary: that he feels so comfortable saying this right out in the open, or that so few people seem to mind.Barack Obama has been entirely too fond of secrecy as President, and he has no claim on the loyalties of those of us who voted for him in 2008 hoping for a pullback from our rush toward the authoritarian national security state for which George W. Bush laid the foundations. Whatever you think of Awlaki, his assassination was a profound betrayal of one of our most crucial national principles: due process of law.
What's appalling is, there is no compelling alternative to Obama in either of the two main political parties. It's not clear that even Ron Paul would want to give up this secret power, were he somehow to gain the office (which would be a mistake for the country for a host of reasons). Every one of the mainstream candidates for President is a cheerleader for anti-terrorism measures, no matter how fatally they assault the Constitution.