Posts Tagged ‘Killing of Anwar al-Awlaki’

Coming clean on drone killings?

May 23, 2013

Attorney-General Eric Holder has revealed the names of four American citizens killed by flying killer drones.  They are the pro-terrorist Muslim cleric Anwar al-Alwaki; Samir Khan, who happened to be nearby when al-Alwaki was killed; Abdulrahman al-Alwaki, Anwar’s 16-year-old son who was killed a few days later; and Juda Kenan Mohammed, about which nothing else is known.

droneattackobamaAnwar al-Alwaki was killed on purpose, because of he reportedly worked with terrorist plotters.  Samir Khan, Abdulrahman al-Alwaki and Juda Kenan Mohammed were killed by accident—”collateral damage.”  I can’t really generalize from a few examples, but if only one out of four victims of Obama’s flying killer drones were actual targets, this does not speak well of the supposed precision of drone strikes.

I think more Americans would be concerned about this if the unintended victims had names such as John Smith, Patrick O’Riley or Karl Andersen.   We need to remember that what can be done to people with dark skins and Arabic names can be done to people with light skins and European names (not that the latter is worse than the former).

Holder’s memo says the Obama administration’s policy is only to assassinate American citizens if they are on foreign soil and if (1) they pose an “imminent threat of violent attack” against the United States, (2) capture is not feasible and (3) the attack is conducted in accordance with the law of war.   The law of war requires that (a) killing is required by military necessity, (b) civilians are not intentionally targeted, (c) collateral damage does not exceed the military value of the operation and (d) the type of weapons used do not inflict unnecessary harm.

He gives a bill of particulars against Anwar al-Alwaki which makes a strong case that al-Alwaki was an “enemy combatant” and deserved to be targeted under these criteria—although there are observers who dispute his facts, and al-Alwaki himself, laboring under the disadvantage of being dead, is not able to give his side of the story.

Read Holder’s letter as a lawyer would.  Note that his criteria refer only to the killing of American citizens abroad.  There is nothing in the letter to limit drone killings of foreigners abroad.  In particular, there is nothing to limit the “signature strikes” killings people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia based on suspicious patterns of behavior—what you might call “walking while Muslim.”

I was struck by the supercilious tone of the letter.   Holder appears to feel that the Obama administration really wasn’t obligated to reveal the names of the four dead Americans, and that it has gone above and beyond its duty of transparency to satisfy critics in the Senate.

Actually, this stance is politically shrewd.  Obama and Holder don’t absolutely refuse to disclose what the administration is doing, but they make it as difficult as possible to obtain the most minor bits of information.  With each disclosure, the temptation for Congress must be to declare victory for transparency and give up.

When I raise questions like this, friends point to earlier periods of American history, such as the Civil War, World War One and World War Two, when civil liberties were temporarily suspended with no permanent loss of liberty.  But all these conflicts came to an end in a short time, and the country was able to return to normal.   What is different about the “war on terror” is that, on the one hand, the existence of the country is not at risk, but, on the other hand, the war is planned to last for decades and perhaps indefinitely.


Holder Letter on Counterterrorism Strikes Against U.S. Citizensa copy of Eric Holder’s letter to Patrick J. Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

U.S. Acknowledges Killing 4 Americans in Drone Strikes by Charlie Savage and Peter Baker in the New York Times.

The Audacity of Eric Holder’s Letter by Conor Friedersdorf.

Washington gets explicit: its ‘war on terror’ is permanent by Glenn Greenwald.

President Obama executes a death warrant

September 30, 2011

Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.  No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

==U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 3

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentiment or indictment of a Grand Jury … … nor be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.

==U.S. Constitution, Amendment V

President Barack Obama at the beginning of last year said he had signed a list of death warrants for people he considered to be enemies of the United States, including an American citizen named Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim cleric in Yemen.

Al-Awlaki is said to have an operational role in al-Qaeda.  If this is true, he is guilty of treason, for which the penalty can be death.  But he was never charged with treason, or anything else.  An indictment would have given him a chance to turn himself in, and defend himself in open court.

It is very possible he was a guilty of something serious, but there is no way to know for sure because President Obama has taken on the role of judge, jury and executioner.

I don’t think I am using excessive language when I say this precedent is more dangerous to American freedom than anything Anwar al-Awlaki could have done as an al-Qaeda supporter.

If Presidential death warrants and assassinations come to be accepted as legal, there is no reason to think they will be limited to radical Muslims.   All kinds of people have been accused of terrorism—religious cults, right-wing militias, animal rights advocates, environmental activists, war protestors.

Conservative Republicans who think universal health care or financial regulation represent dangerous concentrations of federal power ought to consider whether giving the President the right to assassinate at will is a dangerous power.

Liberal Democrats who think President Obama can be trusted with this power ought to consider whether President Rick Perry, President Mitt Romney or President Michelle Bachman can be trusted with this power.

Click on The due-process-free assassination of American citizens is now a reality for Glenn Greenwald’s excellent summing up.

Click on A dark day for the Constitution: American killed by drone strike for comment on The American Conservative web log.

Click on Al-Awlaqi Should Have Been Tried In Abstentia for Prof. Juan Cole’s suggestion. [Added 10/1/11]