The U.S. may not have those "death panels" that Sarah Palin once famously warned about, but we do apparently have a secret panel in charge of making a "kill or capture" list for the executive branch. Reuters is reporting that the panel, a subset of the White House's National Security Council, doesn't have a public record, any laws establishing its existence or guiding rules, and the White House is declining to talk about it. So maybe Ron Paul is onto something?

The panel has come to light in the wake of the recent death of Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, who was put on one of these "kill or capture" lists. Awlaki was, as far anyone is aware, the only American to have ever been put on the list. Details about how the panels work are unfortunately (and understandably) murky, however:

[Officials] said targeting recommendations are drawn up by a committee of mid-level National Security Council and agency officials. Their recommendations are then sent to the panel of NSC "principals," meaning Cabinet secretaries and intelligence unit chiefs, for approval. The panel of principals could have different memberships when considering different operational issues, they said.

And at least in Awlaki's case it appears that "lawyers, including those in the Justice Department, were consulted before Awlaki's name was added to the target list." As for how the government is trying to explain how this could be legal:

Two principal legal theories were advanced, an official said: first, that the actions were permitted by Congress when it authorized the use of military forces against militants in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001; and they are permitted under international law if a country is defending itself.

Considering the fact Obama campaigned against George W. Bush's expansive use of executive power, this is not going to please the base. Especially with the president's approval rating in the crapper.