Charge, Don’t Kill, Anwar Awlaki

The following appeared in the Gallipolis Daily Tribune last week and in today’s Union Daily Times.

CNN has become the latest to brand Anwar Awlaki, a US citizen born and raised in the United States, as not just a “terrorist,” but indeed the “New bin Laden.” Awlaki, we learned in April, became the first American citizen in history to be officially and publicly added to the CIA’s assassination list.

Much has been made of the damage done to America’s increasingly tenuous claims to being a nation of the rule of law by the large-scale detentions (beginning in the Bush Administration and continuing to this day) of terror suspects without charges, but to the extent that he has found his way into the news at all, coverage of the New Mexico cleric has focused largely on sensationalizing the non-specific allegations against the popular internet cleric and outspoken critic of US foreign policy, and rarely, if ever, is the legal basis for targeting him ever mentioned.

As appalling as the detention of so-called “enemy combatants” has been, the Awlaki situation is doubly bad, with the Obama Administration claiming the authority to order his assassination without a trial, and without having charged him with any crimes at all. Awlaki’s father, a well-respected academic, has been soliciting legal help in the US to contest this impending execution.

The elder Awlaki’s quest to save his son’s life is an uphill battle, of course, as President Obama claims the authority to assassinate his son on essentially his own word, and there does not appear to be any obvious legal recourse. He is, in essence, fighting to get the court to hear the argument that his son is not guilty of capital crimes, when he hasn’t been charged, let alone convicted yet, and the evidence is entirely secret, hinted at only tangentially by unnamed Administration officials quoted in media outlets that seem only too eager to condemn Awlaki themselves.

Officials have claimed in recent days that an indictment against Awlaki may eventually be in the offing, but he has been an official target of assassination for at least three months already, and the administration aided a Yemeni government attack which they at one point believed had assassinated him in mid-December, though it was later revealed that this attack had killed only a large number of civilians.

Officials likewise claim that it is Awlaki’s “operational” role in terrorist activities, a claim never substantiated by a shred of publicly available evidence, that is the reason for his assassination. Throughout the Muslim world Awlaki is well known primarily as a critic of US foreign policy, however, and his assassination will be read as a political assassination, in no small part because the claims against him, when they get specific at all, always harken back to comments he made critical of the Bush and later Obama Administrations, and claims that those comments in and of themselves amount to material aid for terrorism.

Awlaki’s suspiciously foreign-sounding name aside, all Americans should be extremely concerned with the administration’s latest claims, which amount to a blanket permit for the president to order the assassination of any American citizen living overseas on the basis of secret evidence and whispered allegations of ill-defined crimes which, even assuming they are crimes, don’t appear to rise to the level of a capital offense.

If President Obama is going to claim the authority to order summary executions, it would behoove Americans to ask where this power came from and why it is needed. If the administration goes ahead with its plans to kill Awlaki, we ought to again ask why, and not accept sloganeering efforts to christen him as the “new bin Laden” as the answer.

6 thoughts on “Charge, Don’t Kill, Anwar Awlaki”

  1. Come on–in the US you are innocent until proven guilty.

    Everyone knows that.

    So what's the problem–the President orders the CIA to drone fellow and he dies an innocent man.

    They then convene a court, give him a fair trial, and find him guilty of being assassinated by the CIA, which is a capital charge.

    His sentence is then commuted to the execution already served.

    All the loose ends are tied up and the integrity of the US system of justice remains unblemished.

  2. Alwaki is an American citizen who regularly broadcasts opinions that the Obama Administration finds to be hostile to their interests, and therefore, his assasination is ordered. Gee, whos next – Limbaugh?

  3. If Awalki is activly engaged in the planning or conspiring to the killing of US citizens or troops, and is doing so from foreign territory , it then makes him FIRST and FOREMOST an enemy combatant worthy of being fair game for a kill , just as on a battle-field . If he's innocent , then he should return to the US and face the legal system .

    1. Let me get this straight. You think Awlaki should return to this country and trust a government that is trying to assassinate him to give him a fair trial. Since no charges have been made against him, why should he have to "face the legal system"? It sounds like you believe Americans should put blind faith in the federal government.

  4. do we have a complete list of Obama's kill list. WOW, this is so new to my ears.. Perhaps I am just a novice, but I thought that I lived in America.

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