02 October 2011

Extrajudicial targeted assassination

The assassination this week of Anwar al-Awlaki has generated lots of rhetoric, not all of it favorable.  Here's a critique from Glenn Greenwald, writing for Salon:
It was first reported in January of last year that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of American citizens whom the President had ordered assassinated without any due process, and one of those Americans was Anwar al-Awlaki. No effort was made to indict him for any crimes (despite a report last October that the Obama administration was “considering” indicting him). Despite substantial doubt among Yemen experts about whether he even had any operational role in Al Qaeda, no evidence (as opposed to unverified government accusations) was presented of his guilt. When Awlaki’s father sought a court order barring Obama from killing his son, the DOJ argued, among other things, that such decisions were “state secrets” and thus beyond the scrutiny of the courts. He was simply ordered killed by the President: his judge, jury and executioner...
What amazes me most whenever I write about this topic is recalling how terribly upset so many Democrats pretended to be when Bush claimed the power merely to detain or even just eavesdrop on American citizens without due process... So for you good progressives out there justifying this, I would ask this: how would the power to assassinate U.S. citizens without due process look to you in the hands of, say, Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann
And this from a column at The Guardian:
Is this the world we want? Where the president of the United States can place an American citizen, or anyone else for that matter, living outside a war zone on a targeted assassination list, and then have him murdered by drone strike...
Yes, Anwar al-Awlaki was a radical Muslim cleric. Yes, his language and speeches were incendiary. He may even have engaged in plots against the United States – but we do not know that because he was never indicted for a crime...
The claim, after the fact, by President Obama that Awlaki "operationally directed efforts" to attack the United States was never presented to a court before he was placed on the "kill" list and is untested. Even if President Obama's claim has some validity, unless Awlaki's alleged terrorists actions were imminent and unless deadly force employed as a last resort, this killing constitutes murder.


  1. I question the status of his citizenship. Time was, taking citizenship in a foreign country was enough to be considered a renunciation of your US citizenship. I have read that he was a citizen of Yemen.

    The Dep't of State has information on this as well. There are rules that allow investigators to strike you off the rolls if you take actions that demonstrate intent to renounce, even if you never explicitly state that intention. I would argue that he felt no allegiance to his native land and citizenship with allegiance is meaningless.

    But the larger question for me is, if his assassination was illegal, so were all the other various AQ number 3s, as they were never tried in a court either. And if theirs were legal, so was his. His citizenship doesn't really enter into it.

    I would like to read more on how he came to be an American citizen at all if he became so radicalized so early in life. It suggests that his parents never really assimilated or grasped the promise of America.

  2. I can't edit the existing comment but found I still had this text in a window:

    From US Dep't of State [http://travel.state.gov/law/citizenship/citizenship_778.html] :
    The premise that a person intends to retain U.S. citizenship is not applicable when the individual:

    • formally renounces U.S. citizenship before a consular officer;
    • serves in the armed forces of a foreign state engaged in hostilities with the United States;
    • takes a policy level position in a foreign state;
    • is convicted of treason; or
    • performs an act made potentially expatriating by statute accompanied by conduct which is so inconsistent with retention of U.S. citizenship that it compels a conclusion that the individual intended to relinquish U.S. citizenship. (Such cases are very rare.)

    One could argue the second one applies, though it requires recognition of AQ as more than it is. But the last one seems to be simpler and doesn't require any fair be shown AQ nor does it assign any blame to Yemen, which is opposed to AQ's influence.

  3. Has anyone in the administration made such a claim against his citizenship?

  4. I see what 'progressive crank' is saying, but shouldn't the rule not be decided on a technicality? I would hate to think so immigration bureaucracy somewhere could decide who is on an assassination list and who isn't.

    Although I'm not a fan of the current president, I was hopeful that he would put an end to conversations like these.

  5. Let me inject a different question into the thread.

    If you approve of extrajudicial targeted assassinations, do you believe all countries (and their leaders) have the right to do this, or that only the United States should do this?

  6. M'Stan, isn't that a rhetorical question? You don't expect anybody to say only the United States has the right to do this, do you?

    --Swift Loris

  7. I think some people believe in American exceptionalism; whether readers here do, or not, I'm waiting to hear...

  8. How much due process did Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow get? or John Dillinger, or Jesse James? I have no problem with what was done to Anwar al-Awlaki, any more than what was done to Osama Bin Ladin. I think that it was more justifiable that invading Iraq.

  9. "So for you good progressives out there justifying this"

    Sorry Glen, No actual progressive would justify this.

  10. I'm not excited by the idea of extra-judicial killing of US citizens (he was born here). Star chambers aren't any better.

    On the other hand, he got exactly what he deserved.

    The slippery slope issue is real - how long will it be before we're blowing up people who write pieces critical of US foreign policy in Le Monde?

    One hopes it will be a long time. In the mean time, I think if we're going to put out death warrants on people, it should be more than on the say-so of politicians. I would have ok'd killing that ass clown. Maybe getting 100 random citizens (20 from Canada) together to figure out who gets predatored and who doesn't would be workable.

  11. Bonnie and Clyde died in a shoot-out, I believe. So have many other criminal Americans. "Wanted Dead or Alive." So "alive" was an option.

    This terrorist was target by a drone missile. It would be the equivalent of traveling to a foreign country and climbing a tree, looking through a window and shooting a target with a sniper rifle. Or planting a bomb under their car, etc. You know where they are, but don't attempt to arrest. "Come out with your hands up."

    That said, we are no longer at war with nations. We weren't at war with Yemen. Extraditing people isn't an option. These guys are in remote areas.

    The old rules don't apply when you are at war. We were not a war with Bonnie and Clyde.

  12. It's great to see people refering to al-Awlaki as a "terrorist" - in case you hadn't noticed, there is as much evidence on record that he was a terrorist (someone who has committed a terrorist act) as there is against ... you.

  13. I can't justify his execution, but then I have an issue with the death penalty in general based on the chance for error in the conviction. Without a trial, or a conviction it seems absurd to condemn someone to death.

    This is yet another indicator that Obama isn't at all a progressive, but just not as conservative as the far right in the US.

  14. @Paul
    There was at the very least an "effort" to capture Osama bin Laden. There is no question that this one was an assassination. Outside of a warzone. He had not even been indicted for a single crime. The evidence against him is a state secret. His father sued the US government when news of an assassination list came out to make the use hold a trial before executing him, and the case was dismissed due to state secrets.

    This leaves me terrified. I am generally against the slippery slope argument; however, I don't think it is a slippery slope to say: one US citizen's right to a fair trial was stripped from him by a sitting president with no public evidence.

    I am most worried by the fact that there was not at least a kangaroo court or other window dressings of legality.

    @Minnesotan: I am opposed to the death penalty period; however, some countries do not legally have a right to a proper trial. I am more OK with them assassinating their citizens. I think that invading a country like the US did to Pakistan for an extraction/assassination is unacceptable unless there is permission from the host country. It seems the US had permission to enter Yemen, so that part is fine and dandy, its the murder part that worries me.

  15. @Chris -
    "some countries do not legally have a right to a proper trial. I am more OK with them assassinating their citizens."

    Would you be OK with them conducting the assassinations in our country? Using drones, for example?

  16. This is a sticky situation. It is difficult because we have to trust the state. That is, we have to trust that the state has the required evidence to prove that this guy was indeed an active "terrorist."

    The second troubling part of this is the idea of the sovereignty of nations. That is, how can the United States justify killing people, any people, in another sovereign country's territory? The fact that this guy is a terrorist is a non sequitur. (Even if he were a terrorist.) The only reason we can get away with this as a country is because of our military might.

    One can only imagine the resulting chaos that would ensue here if Cuba started sending armed drones into Florida to take out "terrorists" living in Miami. I do not see how this is justified by the United States, and not an open act of war, unless the host country gives permission for such a strike.

  17. @M'Stan--do you mean "American exceptionalism" in the sense that the U.S.'s exceptional concern for human rights means we should not be assassinating our citizens in foreign countries without due process, or that because we're exceptional, it's OK for us to do this?

    IOW, would someone who believed in American exceptionalism, in your expectation, be for or against the assassination of al-Awlaki?


    --Swift Loris

  18. Swift, the concept is explained here -


    It seems to me that someone who believes in that concept will believe that the U.S. can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, whereever it wants.

  19. Citizenship questions miss the point. The right to a fair trial predates the state and is not a product of, but rather is acknowledged by, the Constitution. His right to a fair trial was not recognized, and he was murdered.

    This is not an endorsement of his character, and I do not question his involvement in violence and murder, but two wrongs do not make a right.

  20. M'Stan, what I'm saying is that there's more than one interpretation of what "American exceptionalism" means. The original meaning was exceptional virtue, particularly with regard to human rights.

    That meaning has become degraded in some quarters to a claim that America can do anything it wants, as you suggest in your response.

    I wasn't sure whether you were referring to the original or the degraded meaning, because believers in one or the other would most likely have opposing views on the assassination of al-Awlaki. If I believed in the original, I'd be horrified; if I believed in the degraded version, I'd cheer.

    You're something of a history buff, so I thought you might have the original in mind. Turns out you didn't.

    In any case, you don't seem to have flushed out any believers in the degraded version, at least any who think it's OK for the U.S. to do it but not other nations (your original question). You do have one person (Chris) who thinks it's not OK for the U.S. to do it but may be OK for certain other nations to do it, which sounds more like the original "virtuous" American exceptionalism.

    --Swift Loris

  21. Z. Constantine said...

    It's great to see people refering to al-Awlaki as a "terrorist" - in case you hadn't noticed, there is as much evidence on record that he was a terrorist (someone who has committed a terrorist act) as there is against ... you.

    Sorry, no, the New York Times never said about me ...

    WASHINGTON — A federal judge heard a legal challenge on Monday to the Obama administration’s decision to authorize the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, even as Mr. Awlaki, the American-born cleric tied to Al Qaeda and now hiding in Yemen, called for new attacks on the United States in a video posted to the Web.


  22. Anonymous, what is your point in linking to the NY times article? You do know that the result of that suit right? http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/08/world/middleeast/08killing.html?scp=23&sq=al-awlaki+trial&st=nyt So just to be clear- no evidence of terrorism or criminal wrong doing by al-Awlaki was EVER presented to ANY court. (And the USA is STILL refusing to present evidence, see the video clip in the Salon link)

    A progressive crank, your point about citizenship is a crock and you would know it if you bothered to read the article linked to in the post which points out: "Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department last week incredibly admitted what was obvious all along: there is no legal basis for stripping Awlaki of the protections of citizenship:

    While the Obama administration contends al-Awlaki’s U.S. citizenship didn’t prevent the CIA from targeting the alleged terror leader with a drone, the government didn’t have the right to take away that citizenship.

    “It’s interesting,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Friday’s daily briefing amid a barrage of questions on the airstrike that killed al-Awlaki in Yemen. Nuland said she asked State Department lawyers whether the government can revoke a person’s citizenship based on their affiliation with a foreign terrorist group, and it turned out there’s no law on the books authorizing officials to do so. “An American can be stripped of citizenship for committing an act of high treason and being convicted in a court for that. But that was obviously not the case in this case,” she said. “Under U.S. law, there are seven criteria under which you can strip somebody of citizenship, and none of those applied in this case.”

    In other words: we wanted to strip Awlaki of his citizenship, but there’s no legal authority for us to do that, so we just went ahead and killed him. What a world apart from George Bush."

  23. Should have taken my own advice- seems the link to the salon piece is different than the one I had open and quoted from. This is the one I quoted from http://politics.salon.com/2011/10/03/awlaki_7/singleton/
    and the one linked to in the article was different. A progressive crank had no way of knowing his (still erroneous) citizenship point was faulty on the basis of just the original link.

  24. Anonymous said...

    Sorry, no, the New York Times never said about me ...

    So the distinction between allegations published in a newspaper and the proceedings of a court of law is lost on you?

    Perhaps it's not "extrajudicial" assassination, if Americans accept news media as judge and jury.


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