The U.S. launched a drone attack on a convoy carrying key terrorist targets on Sept. 30, dealing yet another devastating blow to the deadly al-Qaida network. What is so different about this attack and the many others the U.S. has carried out in its war on terror? Two American citizens were killed: cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, who edited al-Qaida’s English-language online magazine, Inspire.
The U.S. launched a drone attack on a convoy carrying key terrorist targets on Sept. 30, dealing yet another devastating blow to the deadly al-Qaida network.
But while the airstrike marked the killing of one of the most prominent al-Qaida leaders since Osama bin Laden’s death in May, it is also raising questions that were not asked in the aftermath of other high profile terrorist deaths.
What is so different about this attack and the many others the U.S. has carried out in its war on terror? Two American citizens were killed: cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, who edited al-Qaida’s English-language online magazine, Inspire.
The target of the strike, al-Awlaki, was a radical Islamic propagandist known for being one of the best recruiters for the terrorist network, including finding Americans to carry out attacks on U.S. soil.
The man President Barack Obama referred to as “the leader of external operations for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula” is believed to have been involved in the deadly Fort Hood shootings –– he exchanged numerous emails with Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan –– the failed 2009 Christmas Day “underwear bombing,” the 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt and the mail bombs intended for Chicago-area Jewish synagogues.
Al-Awlaki also may have played a role in 9/11. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, during his time as an imam in California and Virginia, al-Awlaki spent time with three of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Mark Fallon, the former commander of the USS Cole Task Force in Yemen, told the Council on Foreign Relations that al-Awlaki’s death “is extremely significant. He was probably the most dangerous threat to the homeland of the United States because of the following he drew, both in the United States and also in the U.K.”
Yet despite all of this, critics contend al-Awlaki was entitled to due process and a trial in a U.S. court of law. One of the most vocal has been Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, who said, “Al-Awlaki was born here, he’s an American citizen, he was never tried or charged for any crimes. To start assassinating American citizens without charges — we should think very seriously about this.”
I agree with Paul that targeting an American citizen shouldn’t be taken lightly or without going through the proper protocol. However, when al-Awlaki was added to the CIA’s “kill or capture list” last year — the first time an American name had been listed — his father, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights jointly sued the government on the grounds that his constitutional and international rights were being violated. The court tossed the suit, saying this type of decision was “judicially unreviewable,” noting if al-Awlaki wanted judicial due process, then he should surrender himself to American authorities.
He did not surrender himself, of course, and it isn’t like the U.S. was able to simply arrest and charge him. The U.S. chose not to avail itself of that option. Tracking al-Awlaki down and capturing him alive in Yemen would be near impossible, and it likely would have resulted in casualties for U.S. forces. Letting him continue to plot against America wasn’t a realistic alternative, either.
The majority of Congress seems to agree. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have come out in support of Obama and the way the situation was handled.
“It’s something we had to do,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the Associated Press. “The president is showing leadership. The president is showing guts.”
“It’s legal,” said Maryland Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “It’s legitimate, and we’re taking out someone who has attempted to attack us on numerous occasions. And he was on that list.”
It was also the right thing to do. As far as I am concerned, when one actively seeks to destroy his country and kill as many of its citizens as possible, that person effectively terminates his right to the protections afforded by the people of that nation.
Declaring war on one’s own country is treason, after all, and no one is denying al-Awlaki was at the forefront of al-Qaida’s efforts to inflict as much damage as possible on the U.S. Being an American means far more than having the good fortune to be born on U.S. soil, and al-Awlaki’s actions proved he was no American.
City editor Amy Gehrt may be reached at email@example.com.