The Legality of Killing Anwar al-Awlaki

Anwar al-Awlaki, the “Bin Laden of the Internet”, was killed yesterday, just five months after Bin Laden was killed by the same force – CIA drones. The Washington Post writes this morning, “a radical U.S.-born Muslim cleric and one of the most influential al-Qaeda leaders wanted by the United States, was killed Friday in a U.S. drone strike in northern Yemen, Yemeni and American authorities said, eliminating a prominent terrorist recruiter who inspired attacks on U.S. soil.” Good. No one will miss him.

I fully welcome the death of such a terrorist and vulgar hatemonger. Many politicians agree.

Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, called the killing of Aulaqi “a great success in our fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates,” as well as a “tremendous tribute to President Obama and the men and women of our intelligence community.”

In a statement Friday, King added: “For the past several years, [Aulaqi] has been more dangerous even than Osama bin Laden had been. . . . Despite this vital development today, we must remain as vigilant as ever, knowing that there are more Islamic terrorists who will gladly step forward to backfill this dangerous killer.”

Not all agreed.

But Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a contender for the GOP presidential nomination, called the killing an “assassination” of an American citizen without trial.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, also expressed reservations.

“As we have stated repeatedly in the past, the American Muslim community firmly repudiated Anwar al-Awlaki’s incitement to violence, which occurred after he left the United States,” it said in a statement. “While a voice of hate has been eliminated, we urge our nation’s leaders to address the constitutional issues raised by the assassination of American citizens without due process of law.”

Rep. Paul and CAIR have an interesting, if not valid, point. (Why CAIR is concerned about these specific constitutional issues and not American-Islamic relations for law-abiding, non-terrorist Muslims is another story.) Al-Awlaki, as vile as he was, was a US citizen who was given no constitutional protections.

That hardly seems constitutional. He was convicted of no crimes, only accused. He was not granted an attorney, given the chance to submit or challenge witnesses or evidence, or in any way to make a case for his innocence in front of a judge and an impartial jury. Troy Davis was given all of those protections and several appeals before he was finally executed last week, and yet there were massive protests decrying the illegality, immorality, unconstitutionality, racism, inequity… Surely the same logic applies to this case of “assassination.”

In the case of Bin Laden, we additionally have internationally recognized military actions in Afghanistan. There were legal concerns with a strike in Pakistan because it is a sovereign nation. Yemen is also a sovereign nation, but we have no internationally recognized military actions, nor has our government declared war as in Afghanistan. (I should say that the legal concerns for this point concern me very little, but they concern progressives and the Left. It will be interesting to see how it plays out with them and with Obama’s supporters.)

Troy Davis was also executed as an individual that day. Al-Awlaki was one of several.

The strike also killed a second U.S. citizen — Samir Khan, the co-editor of an al-Qaeda magazine — and two other unidentified al-Qaeda operatives, the Yemeni government said. But tribal leaders in the area said at least seven people were killed. They identified one of the others as al-Qaeda militant named Salem bin Arfaaj.

So where to stand on this? I support such drone attacks, as it is often necessary to strike targets that have taken sanctuary across borders. All of these drone attacks are in countries whose governments lack the control or desire necessary for counterterrorism – Yemen lacks the control, Pakistan lacks the desire. We would never think of a drone attack in France or Chile. In my opinion, al-Awlaki waived his rights when he left the US and publicly spent his time recruiting others to kill Americans. An incitement to violence in the US warrants a prison sentence. An incitement to terrorism against the US warrants a drone strike. If he was concerned for his safety, he could have returned to the US and been granted full legal protection during his trial. He chose otherwise. He chose to be an operational leader of an al-Qaeda affiliate, and a target during war.

It will be interesting to see how the Left settles on this issue. In favor of Obama and further attacks on al-Qaeda, or in opposition to continued bombings (of US citizens) in nations with which we are not at war?

*****

Most of this post was written this morning. As I check for updates, several sources are addressing the legality of the attack. Jack L. Goldsmith makes a well-constructed argument in the NYT.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Middle East

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s