Anwar Al-Awlaki Assasination

On September 30, 2011, Anwar Al-Awlaki, the propagandist leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was killed by a drone attack in Yemen. Born in New Mexico in 1971, Awlaki attended Colorado State University and received a civil engineering degree. However, over time, he became increasingly religious and radicalized. Initially, after the September 11th attacks, Al-Awlaki decried the attacks and was a moderate. But over time, his frustrations with the United States led him to inspire terrorists to commit heinous acts of violence. Al-Awlaki sermons have inspired the Food Hood Shooter Nidal Malik Hasan and Christmas Day Bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. He was also linked to the times square bomber. His ability to inspire terrorists was undoubted.

However, the attack has caused some in the United States to doubt the morality and legality of the attack. Specifically, Al-Awlaki was an American Citizen. Some persons on the left and right insist the attack was a violation of the 5th Amendment, which ensures the right to life without loss of due process. After the killing, Ron Paul, a libertarian republican candidate for President stated that: “If the American people accept this blindly and casually that we now have an accepted practice of the President assassinating people who he thinks are bad guys, I think it’s sad.” Similarly, on the opposite side of political spectrum, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement insisting that: “It is a mistake to invest the President — any President — with the unreviewable power to kill any American whom he deems to present a threat to the country.”

On the other hand, drone attacks have been used by the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Proponents of the Awlaki drone attack say it is legally and morally acceptable because it was an act of self-defense. An Obama administration official asserted this week that: “As a general matter, it would be entirely lawful for the United States to target high-level leaders of enemy forces, regardless of their nationality, who are plotting to kill Americans both under the authority provided by Congress in its use of military force in the armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces as well as established international law that recognizes our right of self-defense.” Basically, the argument is that in the war on terror, the battle field is in any country, and the enemies can be domestic or foreign. Therefore, even though Al-Awlaki was an American Citizen, the fact he presented an imminent risk to the nation necessitated his killing.

Either way, the debate going forward will be tenacious. Some will argue that the danger of terrorism necessitates any action in defense. Others will claim that killing an American without any form of due process is a violation of our nation’s principles. Nevertheless, it is certain that finding that balance will be an issue going forward.

6 comments

  1. The “war on terror” has pushed the limits of many constitutional protections to US citizens. The latest, the targeted killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki raises new issues in regard to due process and when the privilege of the writ of Habeas Corpus can be suspended. While I generally err on the side of protecting the rights of citizens, I am not sure how I come out on this event. While the right to due process is so fundamental to our justice system, a part of me looks to what he was involved in and responsible for and thinks that the targeted killing was justified. Most of the argument in favor of this is purely emotional not legal. However, there is the provision under the Habeas Corpus clause that provides for suspension of this clause “when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” I think that a case can be made that it was a case of rebellion – he was an American citizen who became involved in inspiring and leading terrorists. However, the suspension does require a degree of immediacy to the danger and that was not present in this case. While he had been involved in terrible acts, he was not posing an imminent threat to the US at the time he was killed.

    However, I do feel concerned with the lack of justification that is provided by the government. For example, the Justice Department said that the killing was justified because it adhered to the due process of war.

  2. Was I the only one whose mouth dropped when I heard about this? John Walker Lindh, a U.S. citizen who fought with the Taliban, gets 20 years in prison, but al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born imam who planned attacks against the U.S., gets the receiving end of a drone-dropped bomb? The salon.com article that alerted me to this development called this a “due process-free assassination,” prohibited by U.S. and international law alike, and I find it hard to believe otherwise.

    There are no exceptions to the 5th Amendment. In fact, the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires the federal government to accord due process to every “person,” not just American citizens. If the U.S. government wants to consider al-Awlaki an “enemy” and that the laws of war permit a state to kill such an enemy [fairly implausible here, al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen, far from the battlefields of Afghanistan], it needs to do much more than fly in the face of hundreds of years of U.S. Constitutional law without so much as a glance back or a word to its citizens. I’m not contending that al-Awlaki was not a threat. Let’s not forget that we have laws against treason on the books: “[W]hoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death…” 18 U.S.C. § 2381. Or change the 5th Amendment – or get rid of the 14th Amendment jus soli right altogether. This incident begs the question of whether in order to protect due process rights for Americans, it must become harder – much harder – to become a U.S. citizen.

  3. This issue will continue to be in a widespread debate for months to come. On one side, opponents question where the President gets this implied power to authorize such a killing and second, even if he does have this power why is it not explicit in our Constitution? Further, these opponents argue that Obama has violated our Constitution by ordering this killing. On the other hand, the President must have the ability to protect the US national security in foreign affairs.

    While both arguments have merit, first I have issue with the fact that if Anwar Al-Awlak was not on foreign soil his killing would not be justifiable. Even if this man was being held at Guantanamo Bay, the President would not be able to “order to take him out.” Instead, if Anwar Al-Awlak was located on US soil, this US citizen would have had an opportunity to a fair trial prior to his execution. Where did his 5th amendment right guaranteeing due process stop?

    Second, if Anwar Al-Awlak had surrendered to the US authorities, did probable cause exist to indict and convict him? This remains questionable and a source of debate. Yet, a similar debate never truly surfaced after the US “took out” Osama Bin Laden. Due to the overwhelming amount of evidence against Bin Laden, the issue of whether there was probable cause to indict him was never very troubling. Here, the facts are not so clear. Instead, the US killed Anwar Al-Awlak without indicting him, showing that probable cause existed, or even granting him a fair trial. Without clear evidence, how can it be justified to kill our own US citizen in a manner that would not be legal on US soil? Simply, because Anwar Al-Awlak was on foreign soil, regardless of whether he was a US citizen or not, the President is justified in authorizing a drone killing in the name of national security?

  4. This issue will continue to be in a widespread debate for months to come. On one side, opponents question first where the President gets this implied power to authorize such a killing and second, even if he does have this power why is it not explicit in our Constitution? Further, these opponents argue that Obama has violated our Constitution by ordering this killing. On the other hand, the President must have the ability to protect the US national security in foreign affairs.

    While both arguments have merit, first I have issue with the fact that if Anwar Al-Awlak was not on foreign soil this killing would not be justifiable. Even if this man was being held at Guantanamo Bay, the President would not be able to “order to take him out.” Instead, if Anwar Al-Awlak was located on the US soil, this US citizen would have had an opportunity to a fair trial prior to his execution. Where did his 5th Amendment right guaranteeing due process stop?

    Second, if Anwar Al-Awlak had surrendered to the US authorities, was there probable cause to indict and convict him? This remains questionable and a source of debate. Yet, a similar debate never truly surfaced after the US “took out” Osama Bin Laden. The issue of whether probable cause had existed if the US had captured and indicted Bin Laden was never very troubling due to the overwhelming amount of evidence against him. Here, the facts are not so clear. Instead, the US killed Anwar Al-Awlak without indicting him, showing that probable cause existed, or even granting him a fair trial. Without clear evidence, how can it be justified when the US kills their own citizen in a manner that would not be acceptable if he was on US soil? Simply, because Anwar Al-Awlak was on foreign soil, regardless of whether he was a US citizen or not, the President is justified in authorizing a drone attack in the name of national security?

  5. Jaw dropping indeed. Reuters reports that a secret panel can place Americans on a kill list. “There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council…Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.” According to several government officials, a committee of mid-level National Security Council and agency officials draw up targeting recommendations (i.e., plans for extra-judicial assassination), which are then sent to Cabinet secretaries and intelligence unit chiefs for approval. Once approved, the NSC notifies the President of its decision. The President is not required to personally approve the targeting of a person, but if he objects, the decision would be nullified. Here’s the full story: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/05/us-cia-killlist-idUSTRE79475C20111005. Apparently, the panel was behind the decision to add Awlaki to the kill list.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.