Our efforts must also be measured against the history of putting American troops in distant lands among hostile populations. In Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of civilians died in a war where the boundaries of battle were blurred. In Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the extraordinary courage and discipline of our troops, thousands of civilians have been killed. So neither conventional military action, nor waiting for attacks to occur, offers moral safe harbor, and neither does a sole reliance on law enforcement in territories that have no functioning police or security services and, indeed, have no functioning law.
Now, this is not to say that the risks are not real. Any U.S. military action in foreign lands risks creating more enemies and impacts public opinion overseas. Moreover, our laws constrain the power of the president, even during wartime, and I've taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. The very precision of drones strikes and the necessary secrecy often involved in such actions can end up shielding our government from the public scrutiny that a troop deployment invites. It can also lead a president and his team to view drone strikes as a cure-all for terrorism.
And for this reason, I've insisted on strong oversight of all lethal action. After I took office, my administration began briefing all strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan to the appropriate committees of Congress. Let me repeat that: Not only did Congress authorize the use of force, it is briefed on every strike that America takes, every strike. That includes the one instance when we targeted an American citizen: Anwar Awlaki, the chief of external operations for AQAP.
Now, this week I authorized the declassification of this action and the deaths of three other Americans in drone strikes to facilitate transparency and debate on this issue and to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims that have been made.
For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen -- with a drone or with a shotgun -- without due process. Nor should any president deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.
But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens, and when neither the United States nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team.
That's who Anwar Awlaki was. He was continuously trying to kill people. He helped oversee the 2010 plot to detonate explosive devices on two U.S.-bound cargo planes. He was involved in planning to blow up an airliner in 2009. When Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, went to Yemen in 2009, Awlaki hosted him, approved his suicide operation, helped him tape a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack, and his last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil.
I would have detained and prosecuted Awlaki if we captured him before he carried out a plot. But we couldn't. And as president, I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took him out.