Source : ABC, By Kim Landers , 11/08/2010
Remember when the CIA tried to kill Cuba's Fidel Castro?
There were exploding cigars and poison pills and femmes fatales.
Of course none of it worked. And in 1976 US president Gerald Ford issued an executive order banning assassinations.
But in the war against terrorism both the US military and the CIA maintain what's called a "kill or capture" list.
These days an unmanned drone is more likely to deliver the deadly bomb that kills its target in a remote part of Afghanistan or Pakistan.
But now, for the first time, a US citizen has been targeted for killing.
And that's prompted an intriguing question. Can the US government kill one of its own citizens without first convicting him of a crime?
The man with a bullseye against his name is Muslim cleric Anwar al Awlaki.
With a blog, a Facebook page and dozens of YouTube videos he's been described as the "bin Laden of the internet".
Now the 39-year-old, who was born in the US state of New Mexico, has got another dubious distinction.
US president Barack Obama has approved the targeted killing of Anwar al Awlaki, making him the first American citizen to be put on the CIA's targeted kill list.
Anwar al Awlaki is now believed to be hiding in Yemen.
But he has many alleged ties to terrorism in the United States.
Two of the eventual September 11 hijackers attended his mosque in California.
More recently the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up an American plane on Christmas Day told US authorities that the cleric directed him to launch the attack.
And Anwar al Awlaki is also accused of inspiring the US Army major charged with shooting dead 13 of his colleagues at Fort Hood in Texas last year.
While the United States considers him a threat to national security, his father is planning to sue the US government for putting his son on the kill list.
Nasser al Awlaki has enlisted the help of American lawyers to challenge whether it's legal for the CIA to kill a US citizen.
The case has been taken up by the Centre for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Pardiss Kebriaei, who's a staff attorney at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, says the order t0kill Anwar al Awlaki occurred outside of any kind of due process.
"Mr al Awlaki is a US citizen. Yemen is not a country that the United States, we believe, is engaged in a war with." Ms Kebriaei said.
"So from our point of view he would be entitled to the normal due process that any US citizen would be entitled to."
Even if the accusations against Anwar al Awlaki are true, it remains controversial whether the US can kill a suspected terrorist away from the battlefield.
Is this a case of imposing the death penalty against a fellow American, without trial?
Anthony Shaffer is a CIA trained intelligence officer and a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve with more than 25 years experience in the intelligence community.
He doesn't have any sympathy for Anwar al Awlaki's activities or his alleged terrorist connections, but he does think the US cleric is due what he calls "due process".
"I think the best answer is to capture him and bring him back and have him stand trial," he says.
And he's made another intriguing point. He believes Anwar Al Awlaki wants to be martyred.
"He would become the Elvis of Al Qaeda if we kill him and so I think there's a great downside to that," he said.
The lawyers who are now acting for Anwar al Awlaki's father don't know how far their legal case will get.
But it's certainly going to create a very awkward situation for the Obama administration.
"This could make some of the actual techniques being used eligible for exposure to the public which would be very bad, Mr Shaffer says.
"It'd be I'd say far worse than the Wikileaks document should some of these issues be brought to the light of day of how the US government is actually conducting itself in some of its operations," he said.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says he can't discuss how the US decides whether Americans suspected of terrorism may be targeted.
"Anwar al Awlaki has in videos cast his lost with Al Qaeda and its extremist allies," he said.
The director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, offers his own blunt assessment.
"Awlaki is a terrorist and yes, he's a US citizen, but he is first and foremost a terrorist and we're going to treat him like a terrorist," he said.
Kim Landers is one of the ABC's North America correspondents, based in Washington