Monday, October 10, 2011

The Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan assassinations (7)

Cenk Uygur on the decision panel for deciding which American citizens get put on the Presidential assassination list (YouTube video dated 10/07/2011):



Michael Hirsh in Wiping Them Out One by One National Journal 09/30/2011 describes the significance of this double assassination:

President Obama’s relentless program of wiping out top al-Qaida leaders around the world through unilateral covert strikes claimed another victim on Friday, when Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born radical cleric identified as "chief of external operations" for al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula, was killed in Yemen as he rode in a convoy. ...

Still, the strike was the first that was known to be launched against an American (Awlaki had dual Yemeni-U.S. citizenship). The nature of Awlaki’s death once again raised legal and moral issues about the evidence against him, whether he was given due process of law, and the constitutional basis of the administration’s covert strike program.

He reports on the official justifications for the assassination, which as Uygur relates based on the Reuters story he cites, are not documented in the public record, even informally:

Awlaki's death followed the takedown of al-Qaida’s No. 2 official, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, in late August, and Osama bin Laden in early May. U.S. officials quickly sought to justify the strike against a U.S. citizen abroad. "Anwar al-Awlaki was one of AQAP's most dangerous terrorists, and was directly involved in planning attacks against the United States, including the 2010 cargo bomb plot and Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab's attempt to blow up a plane in December 2009," a U.S. official said. “His death takes a committed terrorist, intent on attacking the United States, off the battlefield." ...

Awlaki was believed to have “prepared” Abdul Mutallab's attempt to blow up the Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas 2009, according to a previous statement by James Clapper, director of national intelligence. "Awlaki and AQAP are also responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Yemen and throughout the region, which have killed scores of Muslims,” the U.S. official said.
Hirsh eventually does discuss some of the problems with the drone strike policy, of which the Awlak and Khan assassinations were a part:

In Pakistan's case, questions have arisen about whether the administration’s aggressive efforts may have caused a backlash, leading to even deeper cooperation between the Pakistan intelligence apparatus and the Haqqani terrorist network against U.S. forces next door in Afghanistan. ...

As National Journal reported last May (http://www.nationaljournal.com/magazine/secret-love-obama-s-budding-romance-with-the-cia-20110511), Obama has launched “the most aggressive counterterror ops in the [CIA’s] history,” according to a senior U.S. official. The strikes have been increasingly unilateral, as U.S. forces rely less and less on unreliable governments from Pakistan to Yemen.
But Hirsh mainly devotes his article to allowing named and unnamed Administration officials to make dubious claims defending the assassination and drone strike policies. For balance (?!), he also quotes former Cheney-Bush Administration official John Bellinger defending the policies. The flimsiness of Bellinger's defense of the Awlaki-Khan assassination is evident:

Even inside the United States, if a U.S. citizen is holding somebody hostage and poses an imminent threat, law-enforcement officials can kill him. The standard would be pretty much the same outside the United States. It’s a more controversial theory among human-rights groups to target an American because they’re part of an enemy al-Qaida army. But certainly if you go back to World War II, if an American has signed up as part of a foreign army, that person doesn't cease to be a lawful target.
Except that no one has claimed that Awlaki and Khan were holding hostages. (And if they were, presumably the drone strike killed the hostages, too!) And so far as I'm aware, no American citizen in the German Army during the Second World War was specifically targeted by President Roosevelt for assassination. Awlaki and Khan were not killed in battle as part of a foreign army, they were just blasted by a drone missile strike. Then there's the not-insignificant matter that they United States is not formally at war with Yemen.

The policy of assassinating US citizens is not only immoral and illegal under US law and the Constitution, it's going to continue to have destructive effects until it's stopped and repudiated in an effective way.

Tags: , , , He reports on the official justifications for the assassination, which as Uygur relates based on the Reuters story he cites, are not documented in the public record, even informally:

Awlaki's death followed the takedown of al-Qaida’s No. 2 official, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, in late August, and Osama bin Laden in early May. U.S. officials quickly sought to justify the strike against a U.S. citizen abroad. "Anwar al-Awlaki was one of AQAP's most dangerous terrorists, and was directly involved in planning attacks against the United States, including the 2010 cargo bomb plot and Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab's attempt to blow up a plane in December 2009," a U.S. official said. “His death takes a committed terrorist, intent on attacking the United States, off the battlefield." ...

Awlaki was believed to have “prepared” Abdul Mutallab's attempt to blow up the Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas 2009, according to a previous statement by James Clapper, director of national intelligence. "Awlaki and AQAP are also responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Yemen and throughout the region, which have killed scores of Muslims,” the U.S. official said.
Hirsh eventually does discuss some of the problems with the drone strike policy, of which the Awlak and Khan assassinations were a part:

In Pakistan's case, questions have arisen about whether the administration’s aggressive efforts may have caused a backlash, leading to even deeper cooperation between the Pakistan intelligence apparatus and the Haqqani terrorist network against U.S. forces next door in Afghanistan. ...

As National Journal reported last May (http://www.nationaljournal.com/magazine/secret-love-obama-s-budding-romance-with-the-cia-20110511), Obama has launched “the most aggressive counterterror ops in the [CIA’s] history,” according to a senior U.S. official. The strikes have been increasingly unilateral, as U.S. forces rely less and less on unreliable governments from Pakistan to Yemen.
But Hirsh mainly devotes his article to allowing named and unnamed Administration officials to make dubious claims defending the assassination and drone strike policies. For balance (?!), he also quotes former Cheney-Bush Administration official John Bellinger defending the policies. The flimsiness of Bellinger's defense of the Awlaki-Khan assassination is evident:

Even inside the United States, if a U.S. citizen is holding somebody hostage and poses an imminent threat, law-enforcement officials can kill him. The standard would be pretty much the same outside the United States. It’s a more controversial theory among human-rights groups to target an American because they’re part of an enemy al-Qaida army. But certainly if you go back to World War II, if an American has signed up as part of a foreign army, that person doesn't cease to be a lawful target.
Except that no one has claimed that Awlaki and Khan were holding hostages. (And if they were, presumably the drone strike killed the hostages, too!) And so far as I'm aware, no American citizen in the German Army during the Second World War was specifically targeted by President Roosevelt for assassination. Awlaki and Khan were not killed in battle as part of a foreign army, they were just blasted by a drone missile strike. Then there's the not-insignificant matter that they United States is not formally at war with Yemen.

The policy of assassinating US citizens is not only immoral and illegal under US law and the Constitution, it's going to continue to have destructive effects until it's stopped and repudiated in an effective way.

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