Two-Year Manhunt Led to Awlaki Death


September 30, 2011; NYT

WASHINGTON — Anwar al-Awlaki did not leave much of a trail, frustrating the American and Yemeni intelligence officials pursuing him over the last two years.

They believed they finally had found him in a village in southern Yemen last year. Yemeni commandos, equipped with tanks and heavy weapons, surrounded the hamlet, but he slipped away, according to a Yemeni official. In May, his pursuers targeted him in a drone attack, but narrowly missed him and other members of his entourage as they drove across a desert.

The search for Mr. Awlaki, the American-born cleric whose fiery sermons made him a larger-than-life figure in the shadowy world of jihad, finally ended on Friday. After several days of surveillance of Mr. Awlaki, armed drones operated by the Central Intelligence Agency took off from a new, secret American base in the Arabian Peninsula, crossed into northern Yemen and unleashed a barrage of Hellfire missiles at a car carrying him and other top operatives from Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, including another American militant who had run the group’s English-language Internet magazine.

The strike was the culmination of a desperate manhunt marked not only by near misses and dead ends, but also by a wrenching legal debate in Washington about the legality — and morality — of putting an American citizen on a list of top militants marked for death. It also represented the latest killing of a senior terrorist figure in an escalated campaign by the Obama administration.

“The death of Awlaki is a major blow to Al Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate,” President Obama said in remarks at a swearing-in ceremony for the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, outside Washington. Mr. Obama said the cleric had taken “the lead role in planning and directing the efforts to murder innocent Americans.”

Mr. Obama also called Mr. Awlaki “the leader of external operations for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” — the first time the United States has publicly used that description of him. American officials say he inspired militants around the world and helped plan a number of terrorist plots, including the December 2009 attempt to blow up a jetliner bound for Detroit.

The drone strike was the first C.I.A. strike in Yemen since 2002 — there have been others since then by the military’s Special Operations forces — and was part of an effort by the spy agency to duplicate in Yemen the covert war the it has been running in Pakistan. Friday’s operation was the first time the agency had carried out a deadly strike from a new base in the region. The agency began constructing the base this year, officials said, when it became apparent to intelligence and counterterrorism officials that the threat from Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen had eclipsed that coming from its core group of operatives hiding in Pakistan.

American officials said that the missile strike also killed Samir Khan, an American citizen of Pakistani origin who was an editor of Inspire, Al Qaeda’s English-language online magazine. Mr. Khan, who grew up in Queens and North Carolina, proclaimed in the magazine last year that he was “proud to be a traitor to America,” and edited articles with titles like “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”

United States officials said that Friday’s strike may also have killed Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a Saudi bomb maker responsible for the weapon carried by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber in the jetliner plot. He is also thought to have built the printer-cartridge bombs that, 10 months later, were intended to be put on cargo planes headed to the United States. Neither of those plots were successful.

A high-ranking Yemeni security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Awlaki was killed while traveling between Marib and Jawf Provinces in northern Yemen — areas known for having a Qaeda presence and where there is very little central government control.

A tribal sheik from Jawf Province, Abdullah al-Jumaili, said he had seen the place where Mr. Awlaki was killed. Reached by phone in Jawf, Mr. Jumaili said that the car Mr. Awlaki and two or three companions had been traveling in was nearly destroyed, and that it might be difficult to recognize bodies. But he said he had also spoken to other tribesmen in the area and was “100 percent sure” that Mr. Awlaki had been killed.

There had been an intense debate among lawyers in the months before the Obama administration decided to put Mr. Awlaki on a target list in early 2010, and officials said that Mr. Khan was never on the list. The decision to make Mr. Awlaki a priority to be sought and killed wascontroversial, given his American citizenship. The American Civil Liberties Union, which fought unsuccessfully in the American court system to challenge the decision to target Mr. Awlaki, condemned the killing.

Mr. Awlaki’s death comes in the midst of a deepening political crisis in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been resisting repeated calls to relinquish power. Mr. Saleh has argued that he is essential to the American efforts to battle Al Qaeda in Yemen, but American officials said there was no connection between Mr. Saleh’s abrupt return this week from Saudi Arabia, where he had been recovering from injuries sustained in an assassination attempt, and the timing of Friday’s airstrikes.

Born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, Mr. Awlaki, 40, began preaching in mosques while a college student in the United States. During that time, as a preacher in San Diego, he met two of the Sept. 11, 2001, attackers. He returned to Yemen in 2004 and his English-language sermons became ever more stridently anti-American.

American counterterrorism officials said his Internet lectures and sermons inspired would-be militants and led to more than a dozen terrorist investigations in the United States, Britain and Canada. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 people in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009, had exchanged e-mails with Mr. Awlaki before the shootings. Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square in May 2010, cited Mr. Awlaki as an inspiration.

Many ordinary Yemenis — schooled in the cynicism of Yemeni politics — believe that their government could have killed or even captured Mr. Awlaki at any time, and chose to do so only now for political reasons.

But in fact, the Yemeni security services, many trained by American Special Forces soldiers, appear to have pursued Mr. Awlaki for almost two years in a hunt that was often hindered by the shifting allegiances of Yemen’s tribes and the deep unpopularity of Mr. Saleh’s government.

In 2009 and 2010, Mr. Awlaki seems to have been mostly in the southern heartland of his own powerful tribe, the Awaliq, where killing him would have been politically costly for the government, and capturing him nearly impossible. The area where Mr. Awlaki was finally killed, in the remote north, did not afford him the same tribal protection. There are also many tribal leaders in the far north who receive stipends from Saudi Arabia — the terrorist group’s chief target — and who would therefore have had more motive to assist in killing him.

The hunt for Mr. Awlaki has involved some close calls, including the failed American drone strike in May, and the previously unreported operation in the Yemeni village. Yemen’s elite counterterrorism commandos, backed by weapons from Yemen’s regular armed forces, formed a ring around the town as commanders began negotiating with local leaders to hand Mr. Awlaki over, said one member of the unit.

“We stayed a whole week, but the villagers were supporting him,” said the counterterrorism officer, who is not authorized to speak on the record. “The local people began firing on us, and we fired back, and while it was happening, they helped him to escape.”

Yemen’s political crisis has seriously hampered counterterrorism efforts, and may have slowed down the hunt for Mr. Awlaki. In May and June, armed jihadists overran two towns in southern Yemen, beating back the army brigades in the area and penning one of them behind the walls of its base for two months.

The elite counterterrorism unit was not deployed until August, because of fears of civil war in the capital. Eventually, the unit regained control of the city of Zinjibar, but the counterterrorism officer, who took part in the fight, said the militant forces appeared to have expanded during Yemen’s crisis, with recruits from Somalia and several Arab countries.

Fresh information about Mr. Awlaki’s location surfaced about three weeks ago, allowing the C.I.A. to track him in earnest, waiting for an opportunity to strike with minimal risks to civilians, American officials said.

A senior American military official who monitors Yemen closely said Mr. Awlaki’s death would send an important message to the surviving leaders and foot soldiers in the Qaeda affiliate. “It’s critically important,” the senior official said. “It sets a sense of doom for the rest of them. Getting Awlaki, given his tight operational security, increases the sense of fear. It’s hard for them to attack when they’re trying to protect their own back side.”

But some Islamist figures said Mr. Awlaki’s status could be elevated to that of a martyr. Anjem Choudhry, an Islamic scholar in London, said, “The death of Sheik Anwar al-Awlaki will merely motivate the Muslim youth to struggle harder against the enemies of Islam and Muslims.”

He added, “I would say his death has made him more popular.”

Reporting was contributed by Laura Kasinof from Sana, Yemen; Alan Cowell from London; and Souad Mekhennet and Rick Gladstone from New York.

19 thoughts on “Two-Year Manhunt Led to Awlaki Death

  1. The killing of Anwar al-Aulaqi
    David Ignatius
    WP; Friday, Sep 30, 2011

    Even as U.S. officials take satisfaction over the killing early Friday of Anwar al-Aulaqi in Yemen, they are outlining a strategic and legal policy to guide the use of drones against Al Qaeda leaders such as Aulaqi who are operating from new havens far from Pakistan.

    A White House official responded to a call Friday morning emphatically: “It’s a good day for America.” He went on to summarize the rules of engagement that apply in the Aulaqi attack — and in the broader campaign against Al Qaeda’s far-flung affiliates.

    The essence of the drone-attack policy, the official explained, is that the U.S. will target Al Qaeda affiliates if they are linked to the core group and pose a threat to the U.S. homeland. Group such as the Al-Shabab in Somalia, which have loose links with Al Qaeda, will be targeted only if they pose an external threat; if their battles are purely internal, drone attacks aren’t appropriate, policymakers have concluded.

    The White House official also argued that the very process of mounting attacks against the U.S. — requiring travel, communication, and perhaps use of cell phones and other electronic devices — will make Al Qaeda operatives such as Aulaqi vulnerable in the countries where they are trying to operate. “If you are focused externally on the U.S. and operating in an external threat capacity, we are going to find you,” the White House official said.

    The White House official presented some of the evidence that, in the view of the Obama administration, made Aulaqi a legitimate target for killing, even though he is an American citizen. A fact sheet prepared by the National Counter-Terrorism Center described him as “chief of external operations” for Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and said he played a “significant operational role” in the Christmas 2009 attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight by Umar Farouk Abdulmultallab. According to the fact sheet, “Aulaqi specifically instructed Abdulmutallab to detonate the device while over U.S. airspace to maximize casualties.”

    The intelligence document released by the White House also described Aulaqi’s alleged role in the October 2010 cargo-bomb plot: “Aulaqi had a direct role in supervising and directing AQAP’s failed attempt to bring down two U.S. cargo aircraft by detonating explosives concealed inside two packages mailed to the United States,” the document said. As part of this plot, Aulaqi allegedly communicated in January 2010 with Rajib Karim, a British Airlines worker, in an attempt to recruit operatives at Heathrow Airport in London to help with the attacks. Karim was convicted in a British court last March on terrorism charges.

    U.S. officials insist that Aulaqi was a legitimate target under U.S. and international law because of his role as an operational planner in the group targeted by the authorization to use force against Al Qaeda and affiliates, which was passed by Congress on Sept. 18, 2001. The U.S. could also claim, under international law, that it was acting in self-defense, given its intelligence about Aulaqi’s role in planning attacks against America.

    The evidence released this morning by the White House put Aulaqi on a list of approved targets, which is compiled by the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center and vetted by agency lawyers and the White House counsel’s office. In Aulaqi’s case, because he is an American citizen, there was also a broader review by the principals of the National Security Council, including the attorney general. The attack was a coordinated operation involving both the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, in the Centcom area of operations.

    It has been clear in recent days that the U.S. surveillance dragnet was closing in on Aulaqi. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had signaled early last week that the drone war was moving to Yemen and AQAP, for which Aulaqi had been such an effective planner and propagandist.

    The hunt for Aulaqi intensified as the U.S. and Yemen gathered information about Aulaqi’s movements. Officials spoke of significant gains over the past two weeks. By Thursday, American officials appeared confident that some major success in Yemen was imminent.

    Aulaqi’s death was announced with a discreet note from the Yemeni Foreign Press Office at 5:30 a.m. Friday, with the subject line, “Breaking News.”


  2. Suit Over Targeted Killings Is Thrown Out

    December 7, 2010; NYT


    WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Tuesday threw out a lawsuit that had sought to block the American government from trying to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a United States citizen and Muslim cleric in hiding overseas who is accused of helping to plan attacks by Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.

    The ruling, which clears the way for the Obama administration to continue to try to kill Mr. Awlaki, represents a victory in its efforts to shield from judicial review so-called targeted killings, one of its most striking counterterrorism policies.

    In an 83-page opinion, Judge John D. Bates said Mr. Awlaki’s father, the plaintiff, had no standing to file the lawsuit on behalf of his son. He also said decisions about targeted killings in such circumstances were a “political question” for executive branch officials to make — not judges.

    Judge Bates acknowledged that the case raised “stark, and perplexing, questions” — including whether the president could “order the assassination of a U.S. citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization.”

    But while the “legal and policy questions posed by this case are controversial and of great public interest,” he wrote, they would have to be resolved on another day and, probably, outside a courtroom. Judge Bates sits on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

    Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, praised the ruling for recognizing “that a leader of a foreign terrorist organization who rejects our system of justice cannot enjoy the protection of our courts while plotting strikes against Americans. The court properly rejected that course and declined to intrude into sensitive military and intelligence matters.”

    But Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the decision “a profound mistake” that would dangerously expand presidential power. The A.C.L.U. and the Center for Constitutional Rights represented Mr. Awlaki’s father, Nasser al-Awlaki, in the matter without compensation.

    “If the court’s ruling is correct, the government has unreviewable authority to carry out the targeted killing of any American, anywhere, whom the president deems to be a threat to the nation,” Mr. Jaffer said. “It would be difficult to conceive of a proposition more inconsistent with the Constitution, or more dangerous to American liberty.”

    But Judge Bates rejected the notion that his ruling granted the executive “unreviewable authority to order the assassination of any American whom he labels an enemy of the state.”

    “The court only concludes that it lacks capacity to determine whether a specific individual in hiding overseas, whom the Director of National Intelligence has stated is an ‘operational member’ ” of Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch, “presents such a threat to national security that the United States may authorize the use of lethal force against him,” Judge Bates said.

    Robert Chesney, a University of Texas law professor, said the limits of Judge Bates’ conclusion would be a matter of dispute. He portrayed it as “a sweeping argument against judicial review of targeted killing decisions.”

    “The slippery slope is obviously the concern here,” Mr. Chesney said. “Judge Bates is at pains not to decide this question for other circumstances. But the question remains: what else besides this fact pattern would enable the government to have the same result?”

    Mr. Jaffer said no decision had been made about an appeal.

    Born in New Mexico in 1971, Mr. Awlaki moved to Yemen in 2004 and has made many public statements approving of terrorist attacks. Officials contend that he now plays an “operational” role with the group calling itself Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

    The Treasury Department has claimed that Mr. Awlaki helped direct the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25, 2009. After that failed attack, media outlets quoted anonymous officials as saying Mr. Awlaki had been placed on a list of terrorism suspects approved for killing.

    Still, Mr. Awlaki has received no trial, and his father asked Judge Bates to bar attempts to kill his son unless he presented an imminent threat. The administration, while not confirming whether Mr. Awlaki is on any “kill list,” asked Judge Bates to dismiss the lawsuit.

    The judge largely agreed with the government’s arguments. First, he rejected the father’s standing to sue, saying Mr. Awlaki could pursue such a case himself if he surrendered to American authorities — adding that there was no indication that Mr. Awlaki had sought the lawsuit.

    Moreover, Judge Bates found, it would be inappropriate to second-guess, ahead of time, national-security officials’ evaluation of whether intelligence showed that some overseas person — even a United States citizen — poses such a threat that the person should be killed.

    He sidestepped several issues, including whether the Congressional authorization to use military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, covers Yemen or the terrorist group there, whose connections to the original Al Qaeda are hazy.

    The opinion said it was unnecessary to decide whether the litigation should be dismissed under the state-secrets privilege, which allows the executive branch to block lawsuits that could reveal national-security information. The administration had invoked that privilege in its briefings, but urged Judge Bates to dismiss the case on different grounds.


  3. Anwar al-Awlaki By NYT-Topics

    Anwar al-Awlaki was a radical American-born Muslim cleric who became a leading figure in Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen. He was killed there on Sept. 30, 2011 by a missile fired from an American drone aircraft.

    Mr. Awlaki had been perhaps the most prominent English-speaking advocate of violent jihad against the United States, with his message carried extensively over the Internet. His online lectures and sermons had been linked to more than a dozen terrorist investigations in the United States, Britain and Canada. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had exchanged e-mails with Mr. Awlaki before the deadly shooting rampage on Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009. Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square in May, 2010, cited Mr. Awlaki as an inspiration.

    The strike also killed a radical American colleague traveling with Mr. Awlaki who edited Al Qaeda’s online jihadist magazine. He was identified by Yemen’s official news agency as Samir Khan, an American citizen born in Pakistan.

    Many details of the strike were unclear, but one American official said that Mr. Awlaki, whom the United States had been hunting in Yemen for more than two years, had been identified as the target in advance and was killed with a Hellfire missile fired from a drone operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.

    The strike appeared to be the first time in the United States-led war on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that an American citizen had been deliberately targeted and killed by American forces.

    In 2010, the Obama administration had taken the rare step of authorizing the targeted killing of Mr. Awlaki, even though he was an American citizen — a step that had provoked lawsuits and criticism from human rights groups. He had survived at least one earlier missile strike from an American military drone.

    Those drone attacks had been part of a clandestine Pentagon program to hunt members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group believed responsible for a number of failed attempts to strike the United States, including the thwarted plot to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet on Dec. 25, 2009, as it was preparing to land in Detroit.

    The American military had stepped up its campaign of airstrikes in Yemen earlier in 2011. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in July that two of his top goals were to remove Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s new leader after the death of Osama Bin Laden in May, and Mr. Awlaki. A senior administration official in Washington said the killing of Mr. Awlaki was important because he had become one of Al Qaeda’s top operational planners as well as its greatest English-language propagandist.


    Mr. Awlaki, born in New Mexico in 1971, served as an imam in California and Virginia. He became the focus of intense scrutiny after he was linked through e-mails with Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November 2009 and then to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner in December 2010. He also had ties to two of the 9/11 hijackers although the nature of association remains unclear.

    In May 2010, Mr. Awlaki was mentioned by Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American man accused of trying to detonate a car bomb in Times Square. Mr. Shahzad said he was inspired by the violent rhetoric of Mr. Awlaki.

    The Obama administration’s decision to authorize the killing by the Central Intelligence Agency of a terrorism suspect who is an American citizen set off a debate over the legal and political limits of drone missile strikes, a mainstay of the campaign against terrorism. The notion that the government can, in effect, execute one of its own citizens far from a combat zone, with no judicial process and based on secret intelligence, made some legal authorities deeply uneasy.

    Mr. Awlaki’s father, Nasser al-Awlaki, who contended that his son was not the terrorist the administration portrays him to be, filed a legal challenge to his son’s inclusion on a list of people to be killed by American forces or agents without a trial. The lawsuit was dismissed on Dec. 7, 2010 by a federal judge who ruled that al-Awlaki’s father did not have the authority to sue to stop the United States from killing his son.

    In addition, the judge held that decisions to mount targeted killings overseas are a “political question” for executive officials to make — not judges. In the 83-page opinion, Judge John Bates of the District of Columbia district court acknowledged that the case raised “stark, and perplexing, questions” — including whether the president could “order the assassination of a U.S. citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization.”

    In an earlier setback, in July the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control had announced that it was applying the designation of global terrorist to Mr. Awlaki. That blocked his assets and made it a crime for Americans to engage in transactions with him or for his benefit without a license. The human rights lawyers who filed suit on behalf of Mr. Awlaki’s father challenged that regulation as well.

    The Road to Jihadist

    There were two conventional narratives of Mr. Awlaki’s path to jihad. The first was his own: He was a nonviolent moderate until the United States attacked Muslims openly in Afghanistan and Iraq, covertly in Pakistan and Yemen and even at home, by making targets of Muslims for raids and arrests. He merely followed the religious obligation to defend his faith, he had said.

    A contrasting version of Mr. Awlaki’s story, explored though never confirmed by the national Sept. 11 commission, maintains that he was a secret agent of Al Qaeda starting well before the attacks, when three of the hijackers turned up at his mosques. By this account, all that changed after that was that Mr. Awlaki stopped hiding his true views.

    A product both of Yemen’s deeply conservative religious culture and freewheeling American ways, Mr. Awlaki hesitated to shake hands with women but patronized prostitutes. He was first enthralled with jihad as a teenager — but the cause he embraced, the defeat of Soviet troops in Afghanistan, was then America’s cause too. After a summer visit to the land of the victorious mujahedeen, he brought back an Afghan hat and wore it proudly around the Colorado State University campus in Fort Collins, where he studied engineering.

    Later, Mr. Awlaki seems to have tried out multiple personas: the representative of a tolerant Islam in a multicultural United States (starring in a video explaining Ramadan); the fiery American activist talking about Muslims’ constitutional rights (and citing both Malcolm X and H. Rap Brown); the conspiracy theorist who publicly doubted the Muslim role in the Sept. 11 attacks. (The F.B.I., he wrote a few days afterward, simply blamed passengers with Muslim names.)

    All along he remained a conservative, fundamentalist preacher who invariably started with a scriptural story from the seventh century and drew its personal or political lessons for today, a tradition called salafism, for the Salafs, or ancestors, the leaders of the earliest generations of Islam.

    Finally, after the Yemeni authorities, under American pressure, imprisoned him in 2006 and 2007, Mr. Awlaki seemed to have hardened into a fully committed ideologist of jihad, condemning non-Muslims and cheerleading for slaughter. His message became indistinguishable from that of Osama bin Laden — except for his excellent English and his cultural familiarity with the United States and Britain. Those traits made him especially dangerous, counterterrorism officials feared, and he flaunted them.

    Family Ties to Yemen

    Mr. Awlaki’s American accent was misleading: born in New Mexico when his father was studying agriculture there, he had lived in the country until the age of 7. But he had spent his adolescence in Yemen, where memorizing the Koran was a matter of course for an educated young man, and women were largely excluded from public life.

    After studying Islam in Yemen, Mr. Awlaki also pursued an American education, earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Colorado State University and a master’s in education at San Diego State.

    His father, Nasser, was a prominent figure who would serve as agriculture minister and chancellor of two universities and who was close to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country’s authoritarian leader. Anwar was sent to Azal Modern School, among the country’s most prestigious private schools.

    He studied civil engineering in Colorado in preparation for the kind of technocratic career his father had pursued. Mr. Awlaki, a fan of Dickens, would later compare Thomas Gradgrind, the notoriously utilitarian headmaster in “Hard Times,” “to some Muslim parents who are programmed to think that only medicine or engineering are worthy professions for their children,” perhaps hinting at his own experience.

    Some family acquaintances say tension arose between Anwar and his father over career choices. But in 1994, Mr. Awlaki married a cousin from Yemen, left behind engineering and took a part-time job as imam at the Denver Islamic Society.

    Violence as Religious Duty

    Mr. Awlaki had never been accused of planting explosives himself, but terrorism experts believe his persuasive endorsement of violence as a religious duty, in colloquial, American-accented English, helped push a series of Western Muslims into terrorism.

    The F.B.I. had first taken an interest in Mr. Awlaki in 1999, concerned about brushes with militants that to this day remain difficult to interpret. In 1998 and 1999, he was a vice president of a small Islamic charity that an F.B.I. agent later testified was “a front organization to funnel money to terrorists.” He had been visited by Ziyad Khaleel, a Qaeda operative who purchased a battery for Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone, as well as by an associate of Omar Abdel Rahman, the so-called Blind Sheik, who was serving a life sentence for plotting to blow up New York landmarks.

    Still more disturbing were Mr. Awlaki’s links to two future Sept. 11 hijackers, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhazmi. They prayed at his San Diego mosque and were seen in long conferences with the cleric. Mr. Alhazmi would follow the imam to his new mosque in Virginia, and 9/11 investigators would call Mr. Awlaki Mr. Alhazmi’s “spiritual adviser.”

    The F.B.I., whose agents interviewed Mr. Awlaki four times in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, concluded that his contacts with the hijackers and other radicals were random, the inevitable consequence of living in the small world of Islam in America. But records of the 9/11 commission at the National Archives make clear that not all investigators agreed.

    Concerns later focused on Mr. Awlaki’s influence via his Web site, his Facebook page and many booklets and CDs carrying his message, including a text called “44 Ways to Support Jihad.” Mr. Awlaki’s current site,, went offline after he was linked to Major Hasan, apparently because a series of Web hosting companies took it down.

    He left the United States in 2002 for London, where he addressed a rapt audience of young Muslims.

    Unable to support himself, he returned to Yemen, where he spent 18 months in prison for intervening in a tribal dispute. He publicly blamed the United States for pressuring Yemeni authorities to keep him locked up and said he was questioned by F.B.I. agents there. After his release, in December 2007, his message became even more overtly supportive of violence.

    In January 2010, Mr. Awlaki acknowledged for the first time that he met with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect in the Dec. 25 airliner bomb plot, though he denied any role in the attack, according to a Yemeni journalist. Mr. Awlaki said he had “communications” with the Nigerian suspect in Yemen in the fall of 2009, according to the journalist, Abdulelah Hider Sha’ea.

    From his hideout, Mr. Awlaki continued to send out the occasional video message, relying more on the hundreds of audio and video clips that his followers posted to the Web, a mix of religious stories and incitement, awaiting the curious and the troubled.

    Mr. Awlaki broke his silence on the uprisings in the Arab world in March 2011, claiming that Islamist extremists had gleefully watched the success of protest movements against governments they had long despised. His four-page essay, titled “The Tsunami of Change,” countered the common view among Western analysts that the terrorist network looks irrelevant at a time of unprecedented change in the modern Middle East.


  4. 2nd American (Samir Khan-CyberPropagandist) in Strike Waged Qaeda Media War

    September 30, 2011;NYT

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. — From his parents’ basement in a part of town where homes have lots of bedrooms and most children go to college, Samir Khan blogged his way into the highest circles of Al Qaeda, waging a media war he believed was as important as the battles with guns on the ground.

    His parents — by all accounts a low-key, respected couple who had moved south from Queens in 2004 — were worried about the increasingly radical nature of their son’s philosophy and the increasing media reports that exposed it.

    They turned more than once to members of their religious communities to impress upon their college-aged son the perils of such thinking and behavior.

    It did not work. In 2009, he left his comfortable life in Charlotte for Yemen, started a slick magazine for jihadists called Inspire that featured political and how-to articles written in a comfortable American vernacular and continued to digitally dodge government and civilian efforts to stop his self-described “media jihad.”

    His life ended in Yemen on Friday, when Mr. Khan, 25, was killed in a drone strike that also took the life of the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and two other men, according to both American and Yemeni officials.

    At the Islamic Society of Greater Charlotte, few of the several hundred Muslims gathered for Friday Prayer wanted to talk about Mr. Khan.

    “This is a very dangerous road when you go and kill someone like this,” said Ayeb Suleiman, 25, a medical resident. “He was just an editor. He was just writing.”

    Others felt grief for a family who had lost a son, no matter the nature of the son’s activities.

    Mr. Khan’s father, Zafar Khan, is an information technology executive and a respected, regular worshiper who bought his family a two-story brick house near a golf course. He often talked cricket with Yasin Raja, a fellow Pakistani-American.

    “If Samir got caught up with something, that was on his own,” Mr. Raja said.

    Steve Glocke, who lives across the street from the family, watched Mr. Khan grow from a cordial teenager who played basketball with his brother in the street into a quiet, but radical, young man. When Mr. Khan moved to Yemen, he said, “I would ask if he was O.K., and they would say they didn’t know.”

    His parents were worried even before the family moved from Queens. Mustapha Elturk, the imam and president of the Islamic Organization of North America, met the family in the mid-1990s during an educational program at a mosque in Flushing, Queens. Mr. Khan was interested in Islam as a way to “stay away from the peer pressure of his teenage days,” he said.

    But after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Khan’s attraction to militant sites on the Internet and his radical views grew to the point where his father intervened.

    “He tried his best to make his son meet all sorts of imams and scholars to dissuade him from those views,” said Mr. Elturk, who spoke with Mr. Khan’s father on Friday to offer condolences. “He would give you the impression that he would change.”

    Early intervention by members of the local community is key to preventing the radicalization of Islamic youth, said Sue Myrick, the member of Congress who represents the part of Charlotte where Mr. Khan lived.

    Mr. Khan’s last issue of Inspire came out this week. It was 20 pages, smaller than the rest, and dedicated largely to the Sept. 11 attacks. It has lost some of the cheekiness of early editions, which outlined what to expect on a jihad and had headlines like “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”

    In this edition, he made clear the role he believed he played in the war. “While America was focused on battling mujahedeen in the mountains of Afghanistan and the streets of Iraq,” he wrote, “the jihadi media and its supporters were in fifth gear.”

    Robbie Brown reported from Charlotte, and Kim Severson from Atlanta. Matt Flegenheimer contributed reporting from New York.


  5. Strike Reflects U.S. Shift to Drones in Terror Fight

    Oct 1 2011, NYT

    WASHINGTON — The C.I.A. drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born propagandist for Al Qaeda’s rising franchise in Yemen, was one more demonstration of what American officials describe as a cheap, safe and precise tool to eliminate enemies. It was also a sign that the decade-old American campaign against terrorism has reached a turning point.

    Disillusioned by huge costs and uncertain outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration has decisively embraced the drone, along with small-scale lightning raids like the one that killed Osama bin Laden in May, as the future of the fight against terrorist networks.

    “The lessons of the big wars are obvious,” said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has studied the trade-offs. “The cost in blood and treasure is immense, and the outcome is unforeseeable. Public support at home is declining toward rock bottom. And the people you’ve come to liberate come to resent your presence.”

    The shift is also a result of shrinking budgets, which will no longer accommodate the deployment of large forces overseas at a rough annual cost of $1 million per soldier. And there have been improvements in the technical capabilities of remotely piloted aircraft. One of them tracked Mr. Awlaki with live video on Yemeni tribal turf, where it is too dangerous for American troops to go.

    Even military officials who advocate for the drone campaign acknowledge that these technologies are not applicable to every security threat.

    Still, the move to drones and precise strikes is a remarkable change in favored strategy, underscored by the leadership changes at the Pentagon and C.I.A. Just a few years ago, counterinsurgency was the rage, as Gen. David H. Petraeus used the strategy to turn around what appeared to be a hopeless situation in Iraq. He then applied those lessons in Afghanistan.

    The outcome — as measured in political stability, rule of law and economic development — remains uncertain in both.

    Now, Mr. Petraeus (he has chosen to go by his civilian title of director, rather than general) is in charge of the C.I.A., which pioneered the drone campaign in Pakistan. He no longer commands the troops whose numbers were the core of counterinsurgency.

    And the defense secretary is Leon E. Panetta, who oversaw the escalation of drone strikes in Pakistan’s lawless tribal area as the C.I.A. director. Mr. Panetta, the budget director under President Bill Clinton, must find a way to safeguard security as the Pentagon purse strings draw tight.

    Today, there is little political appetite for the risk, cost and especially the long timelines required by counterinsurgency doctrine, which involves building societies and governments to gradually take over the battle against insurgents and terrorists within their borders.

    The apparent simplicity of a drone aloft, with its pilot operating from the United States, can be misleading. Behind each aircraft is a team of 150 or more personnel, repairing and maintaining the plane and the heap of ground technology that keeps it in the air, poring over the hours of videos and radio signals it collects, and gathering the voluminous intelligence necessary to prompt a single strike.

    Air Force officials calculate that it costs $5 billion to operate the service’s global airborne surveillance network, and that sum is growing. The Pentagon has asked for another $5 billion next year alone for remotely piloted drone systems.

    Yet even those costs are tiny compared with the price of the big wars. A Brown University study, published in June, estimates that the United States will have spent $3.7 trillion in Afghanistan and Iraq by the time the wars are over.

    The drones may alienate fewer people. They have angered many Pakistanis, who resent the violation of their country’s sovereignty and the inevitable civilian casualties when missiles go awry or are directed by imperfect intelligence. But while experts argue over the extent of the deaths of innocents when missiles fall on suspected terrorist compounds, there is broad agreement that the drones cause far fewer unintended deaths and produce far fewer refugees than either ground combat or traditional airstrikes.

    Still, there are questions of legality. The Obama administration legal team wrestled with whether it would be lawful to make Mr. Awlaki a target for death — a proposition that raised complex issues involving Mr. Awlaki’s constitutional rights as an American citizen, domestic statutes and international law.

    The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel eventually issued a lengthy, classified memorandum that apparently concluded it would be legal to strike at someone like Mr. Awlaki in circumstances in which he was believed to be plotting attacks against the United States, and if there was no way to arrest him. The existence of that memorandum was first reported Saturday by The Washington Post.

    The role of drones in the changing American way of war also illustrates the increasing militarization of the intelligence community, as Air Force drone technologies for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — and now armed with Hellfire missiles for strikes on ground targets — play a central role in C.I.A. operations. The blurring of military-intelligence boundaries includes former uniformed officers assuming top jobs in the intelligence apparatus and military commando units carrying out raids under C.I.A. command.

    As useful as the drones have proved for counterterrorism, their value in other kinds of conflicts may be more limited. Against some of the most significant potential threats — a China in ascendancy, for example, or a North Korea or Iran with nuclear weapons — drones are likely to be of marginal value. Should military force be required as a deterrent or for an attack, traditional forces, including warships and combat aircraft, would carry the heaviest load.

    Of course, new kinds of air power have often appeared seductive, offering a cleaner, higher-tech brand of war. Military officials say they are aware that drones are no panacea.

    “It’s one of many capabilities that we have at our disposal to go after terrorists and others,” one senior Pentagon official said. “But this is a tool that is not a weapon for weapon’s sake. It’s tied to policy. In many cases, these weapons are deployed in areas where it’s very tough to go after the enemy by conventional means, because these terror leaders are located in some of the most remote places.”

    In some ways, the debate over drones versus troops recalls the early months of George W. Bush’s administration, when the new president and his defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, envisioned how a revolution in military technology would allow the Defense Department to reduce its ground forces and focus money instead on intelligence platforms and long-range, precision-strike weapons.

    Then came the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the wars, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, in which ground forces carried out the lion’s share of the missions.

    Mr. Zenko, of the Council on Foreign Relations, worries about the growing perception that drones are the answer to terrorism, just a few years after many officials believed that invading and remaking countries would prove the cure. The recent string of successful strikes has prompted senior Obama administration officials to suggest that the demise of Al Qaeda may be within sight. But the history of terrorist movements shows that they are almost never ended by military force, he said.

    “What gets lost are all the other instruments of national power,” including diplomacy, trade policy and development aid, Mr. Zenko said. “But these days those tools never get adequate consideration, because drones get all the attention.”

    Charlie Savage contributed reporting.


  6. Yemen Notes Its Own Role in U.S. Attack on Militant

    Oct 1 2011; NYT

    SANA, Yemen — Yemeni officials provided more details on Saturday about their role in the tracking and killing of an American-born cleric, while a government spokesman said that the United States should show more appreciation to Yemen’s embattled president for his assistance in the case.

    A high-ranking Yemeni official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Yemen had provided the United States with intelligence on the location of the cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by an American drone strike on Friday. The information came from “a recently captured Al Qaeda operative,” the official said.

    He said that Yemeni security officials located Mr. Awlaki on Friday morning in a house in the village of Al Khasaf in Al Jawf Province. The remote village lies in a desert where the Yemeni state has no control and tribes with varying loyalties rule.

    The United States said that Mr. Awlaki, a propagandist for the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda, had taken on an operational role in the organization, and last year the Obama administration placed him on a list of targets to kill or capture. The Yemeni group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is considered Al Qaeda’s “most active operational affiliate,” President Obama said Friday, and the United States was a major target.

    The State Department issued a travel alert on Saturday, warning that the attack “could provide motivation” for retaliatory attacks worldwide against American citizens and interests.

    The killing came a week after the return to Yemen of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been recovering in Saudi Arabia from wounds sustained in an assassination attempt and whose resignation after 33 years of autocratic rule has been demanded by a large protest movement in Yemen, the political opposition, regional powers and the United States.

    The timing of the airstrikes fueled speculation that Mr. Saleh, who has frequently portrayed himself as an essential bulwark against Al Qaeda, had handed over Mr. Awlaki to the Americans in order to reduce American pressure on him to leave.

    American officials said Friday that there was no connection between Mr. Saleh’s return and the airstrikes. They said that American and Yemeni security forces had been hunting Mr. Awlaki for nearly two years, and that new information about his location surfaced about three weeks ago.

    That information allowed the C.I.A. to track his movements, the officials said, and wait for an opportunity to strike when there was little risk to civilians.

    A senior American official made it clear on Saturday that Mr. Saleh’s immediate resignation remained a goal of American policy and said that Yemen’s government was under no “significant illusion” that the United States had changed its position.

    “Sustaining military-to-military cooperation is in our best interest,” the official added, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We don’t want to undermine that cooperation.”

    A Yemeni government spokesman, however, said that Mr. Saleh deserved credit for helping the Americans.

    “After this big victory in catching Awlaki, the White House calls on the president to leave power immediately?” a deputy information minister, Abdu al-Janadi, told Reuters. “The Americans don’t even respect those who cooperate with them.”

    The spokesman for Yemen’s opposition coalition, Mohammed Qahtan, rejected the idea that Mr. Awlaki’s killing was a feather in the government’s cap. Instead, it showed “the regime’s failure and weakness to perform its duty to arrest and try Awlaki in accordance with the Constitution,” Mr. Qahtan said. “And it’s that that forced America to go after him using their own means.”

    Although Yemen did not carry out the strike, which was launched from a secret American base, Yemeni officials were quick to trumpet the results. A high-ranking Yemeni security official called The New York Times at 10:15 a.m. local time on Friday, about 20 minutes after the attack.

    The Defense Ministry broadcast the announcement an hour later, hours before American officials made any public statement.


  7. What’s Wrong With Awlaki’s Killing

    Anwar al-Awlaki inspired terrorist acts and was certainly dangerous, but President Obama must explain the goals of his drone war to the nation—and the ethical rules that guide him in targeting U.S. citizens and others abroad.
    by Stephen L. Carter | September 30, 2011 1:21 PM EDT

    I hate to be the stick in the mud, but the Obama administration’s announcement of the killing of the radical imam Anwar al-Awlaki, while welcome news, nevertheless raises ethical questions that demand our attention. Awlaki, a top recruiter and planner for al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula and among the most wanted terror leaders, was blown to bits, along with several bodyguards, while traveling in northern Yemen.

    Awlaki, an American citizen, was unquestionably a dangerous man. The New York Times summarizes neatly: “Mr. Awlaki’s Internet lectures and sermons have been linked to more than a dozen terrorist investigations in the United States, Britain, and Canada. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had exchanged emails with Mr. Awlaki before the deadly shooting rampage on Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009. Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square in May, 2010, cited Mr. Awlaki as an inspiration.” Others who were inspired, if that is the word, by his online videos, included “the young men who planned to attack Fort Dix, N.J.; and a 21-year-old British student who told the police she stabbed a member of Parliament after watching 100 hours of Awlaki videos.”

    Awlaki was reportedly involved in attacks in Yemen as well as in the United States. The Wall Street Journal quotes an administration source as calling Awlaki “a committed terrorist, intent on attacking the United States.” In short, his killing is precisely in line with Obama’s announced policy of eliminating the nation’s enemies before they can strike on our shores, an approach pioneered by his predecessor and greatly expanded over the past two years.

    The great moral issue in war is killing, and we are still killing, even when we do it remotely. We should be paying closer attention.

    AP Photo (2)

    So if Awlaki was such a terrible man, intent on doing such terrible things, what questions could anyone raise about the propriety of what two administrations now have tried to do—keep America safe by blowing up those who would attack us before they can carry out their plans?

    Let’s consider two separate problems. Neither is unsolvable, but neither has yet endured the full public discussion that it might in a more noticeable war.

    Problem One: What is the source of the president’s authority to order the drone killings? The Obama administration has defended the drone attacks as necessary to the defense of the United States. Many scholars would insist that the commander in chief possesses an inherent constitutional authority to defend the country, but the president’s lawyers have placed their reliance instead on the resolution adopted by the Congress in September 2001 authorizing the president to use force against “nations, organizations, or persons” involved in the 9/11 attacks, “in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.” What is striking about the resolution is that it mentions no geographic limitations, and the Obama administration seems to acknowledge none.

    Why does this matter? Wasn’t Awlaki killed in Yemen? Let’s concede for the sake of argument, although some critics disagree, that a killing in Yemen falls within the terms of the resolution. Is the theater of war to be the entire world? By the logic of the administration’s argument, Awlaki would have been every bit as legitimate a target for killing rather than arrest even had he been found asleep in the grandest hotel in Paris—or Manhattan. In either case, it seems, we would have had the right to blow the building to bits to get him. (I am not saying, and do not believe, that we would have blown either building to bits; only that nothing in the administration’s argument suggests that ordering the hotel’s destruction would have been beyond the president’s authority.) If this is really what the White House is asserting, the American people need to be told, and in clear terms.

    Problem Two: What about reciprocity? Under both the law and the ethics governing armed conflicts, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If a tool of warfare is acceptable for one side, then it is acceptable for the other—even if only one of the two sides is fighting in a just cause. And yet I suspect that should a terror group ever use a drone to fire missiles on our shores, we would regard the attack, quite rightly, as a forbidden act of terror, not a legitimate act of war. If I am right in my suspicion, the reason probably is that we instinctively believe that the terrorist is different from other enemies: that unlike an ordinary belligerent, he has no right to fight at all.

    Obama seems to have acceded to the view of his predecessor that terrorists are like pirates, whom Cicero famously described as “not included in the number of lawful enemies, but…the common foe of all the world.” One who is “the common foe of all the world”—or hostis humani generis—need not be treated as other prisoners (see Guantanamo detention facility, non-closing of), and, traditionally, could be slain wherever found. The larger point is this: because one who is hostis humani generis cannot lawfully fight, none of his belligerent acts are ever legitimate. That’s why the terror groups would be acting outside the law were they to launch drone attacks of their own, and that’s why we can kill them freely: they have no right to fight at all, even in self-defense. (Indeed, the Obama administration is reportedly preparing to deploy armed drones for use against pirates, too.)

    I do not say any of this as criticism of the administration’s growing reliance on remote-controlled drones in the killing of terror leaders. I support the policy. But targeted killing should not rest entirely within the secret discretion of our leaders. The law professor Kenneth Anderson, perhaps the leading academic expert on the legality of drone warfare, has been arguing for some time now that the United States, as the dominant user of drone attacks, should be developing norms to regulate their use. Not rules, says Anderson—he does not envision lawyers standing behind every console operator—but norms, a set of shared ethical understandings to help our leaders decide when the use of targeted killing is necessary and appropriate. I agree.

    The right way to develop an ethical sense about the use of drones is through robust public debate. Alas, that task may be difficult, because the drone war tends to slide off the screen. When we have, in the argot, boots on the ground, the public pays keen attention to war, engaging in often spirited argument over rights and wrongs. But the drone war poses little threat to American forces, and the attacks are rarely reported unless some major figure is killed, or a missile goes off course and strikes a wedding.

    We should be paying closer attention. The great moral issue in war is the killing, and we are still killing, even when we do it remotely. The drone war may be entirely justified, but that is hardly a reason to stop paying attention. During World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill proposed to his cabinet the targeted killing of the top 150 leaders of the Nazi regime, but agonized over whether the public would accept such an action. By most counts, our drone war has killed hundreds, and probably thousands, and we accept it as a matter of course.

    This does not mean that we are callous. Probably we believe in what is being done in our name. Nevertheless, it would be a useful thing for both our country and the world were the president to put aside the reelection battle long enough to address the nation on what he has called the problem of eliminating our enemies. He should tell us, clearly and simply, what the goal of the drone war is; what ethical rules guide him in deciding whom to target; and how we will know when the war is won. Such a presidential speech would treat us as adults—and force us to debate how, and how long, we want to fight.

    Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale, where he has taught since 1982. His seven nonfiction books include God’s Name in Vain: The Wrongs. His first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park (2002), spent 11 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. His twelfth book, The Violence of Peace: America’s Wars in the Age of Obama, was published by Beast Books in January.


  8. Report: Al-Qaida’s Yemen chiefs still menace US
    By KIMBERLY DOZIER – AP Intelligence Writer | AP – Mon, Oct 3, 2011

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Al-Qaida in Yemen has taken a hit with the loss of U.S.-born al-Qaida preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, but the leadership left behind is equally committed to attacking the U.S. homeland, and far more skilled, according to a new report by a top Army counterterrorism center.

    Chief among them is terror chief Nasir al-Wahayshi, who used to work for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, as well as top bomb maker Ibrahim Asiri, according to the report released Monday by the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center.

    Yet that strength could also spell the group’s end, with a few more well-placed drone strikes or Yemeni counterterror raids. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s “reliance on this capable leadership is simultaneously the group’s central vulnerability,” said study editor Gabriel Koehler-Derrick.

    “Removing these leaders from the battlefield … would rapidly bring about the group’s defeat,” according to the study, which took a year of fieldwork inside Yemen, well before the strike that killed al-Awlaki and fellow U.S.-born propagandist Samir Khan.

    The strike was carried out Friday with Yemeni permission by CIA drones, in concert with U.S. military counterterrorist forces.
    Al-Wahayshi was in charge when the group launched its first official attack, the dual suicide bombing of U.S. oil facilities in Yemen in 2006.

    Another key figure still at large is military leader Qasim al-Rimi, who the State Department said played a key role in reviving al-Qaida as a terrorist powerhouse in Yemen in 2007.

    Audio statements by both al-Wahayshi and al-Rimi “demonstrate unequivocal calls for jihad and attacks against the U.S.” but have received less attention because they’re in Arabic, Koehler-Derrick said.

    In addition to targeting those leaders, the study’s authors argue the Yemeni government can help defeat the group by cutting deals with a growing list of local opponents. Since unrest started in Yemen as part of the cascade of revolts known as the Arab Spring, al-Qaida’s recent military campaign to seize and hold territory inside Yemen has won it many new enemies, the study authors assert.

    Bin Laden’s successor Ayman al-Zawahiri has backed seizing territory in Yemen to start down the road of establishing an Islamic caliphate, according to a senior intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters.

    But that has woken two sleeping giants: the Yemeni government and the country’s powerful tribes.

    Before al-Qaida attacked the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, there was an unwritten understanding that the government would largely leave al-Qaida alone as long as it left the regime in peace, according to two U.S. counterterrorism officials. They spoke anonymously to discuss a sensitive policy clash with the Yemeni government, which frustrated the Americans because it meant there were certain parts of Yemeni territory where the U.S. was unable to operate.

    The Yemeni government started allowing the U.S. a freer hand after al-Qaida attempted to send explosive devices hidden in printer cartridges aboard U.S.-bound cargo planes last year, but only “allowed the U.S. to take the gloves off” once al-Qaida joined in the uprising and started seizing large swaths of Abyan province, one of the officials said.

    That’s when the Yemeni government started sharing much more intelligence with U.S. counterterrorism officials, and allowed them increase the presence of CIA officers and military advisers inside the country, working alongside Yemeni forces.

    The Yemenis still don’t allow the U.S. to fly armed drones and spy planes from Yemeni territory, instead forcing them to fly from a nearby secret CIA base in a nearby country, as well as bases in Djibouti and a temporary post in the Seychelles. But Yemen has allowed the U.S. to increase the number of flights and the territory they cover, even suggesting occasional targets which may or may not be al-Qaida-related — so much so that the U.S. has had to guard against the Saleh government employing U.S. firepower against other internal rivals to stay in power, the two U.S. officials said.

    As for Yemen’s tribes, al-Qaida has “utterly failed” at winning them over, Koehler-Derrick said. “None of its prominent leaders are tribesmen and it enjoys no formal alliance with Yemen’s tribes,” he said.

    And in the power struggle among Yemeni tribes and opposition political parties, al-Qaida falls to the bottom of the heap in terms of public popularity, Koehler-Derrick added.

    If the Yemeni government cuts deals with its opponents, as Saleh has done in the past, they’d form a majority that would overwhelm al-Qaida, the report suggests. That would also undermine al-Qaida’s message that change only comes through jihad — a religious struggle. Instead, as in the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, it would signal that change can come through a far more secular form of revolution.
    AP Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier can be followed on Twitter @kimberly_dozier.


  9. Should the US be able to use lethal force against members of Al Qaeda anywhere?

    There’s a debate between the State Department, the Pentagon and Obama’s legal team over when and under what circumstance the United States can use lethal force against members of Al Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia.

    The legal and/or policy issues raise larger questions about how the United States targets its “enemies” when they are not connected to a state like Afghanistan and Pakistan. Osama bin Laden was an acceptable target, but what about low-level members roaming around the world? The Defense Department’s position is that the U.S. can pursue and kill Al Qaeda operatives any where in the world, but the State Department argues that international law limits the United States ability to take aim. Considering that the traditional rules of engagement have changed; how much force should the United States be permitted to use against terrorists to protect the country against credible threats?

    Allen S. Weiner, director, Stanford Program in International and Comparative Law; co-director, Stanford Center on International Conflict and Negotiation

    Gary Solis, former Marine Corps prosecutor; professor of the law of war, Georgetown University, West Point and George Washington University


  10. Who signed Anwar al-Awlaki’s death warrant?

    By Richard Cohen, Tuesday, October 11, 7:52 AM

    Who the hell is David Barron?

    Wikipedia says that name may refer to a British film producer, a soccer player, an actor or a sportswriter. Google says he could be a hairstylist in Atlanta. None of these, though, is the David Barron I have in mind. The one I want is the one who signed off on the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a very bad guy but, still, an American citizen. Barron was a U.S. government lawyer.

    Never heard of him? Me neither. But according to published reports, he was one of two lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel — the other was Martin Lederman — who in 2010 composed an approximately 50-page memo saying it was legally permissible to kill Awlaki even though he was a U.S. citizen and had not been convicted of so much as a traffic violation. Using plain common sense, they apparently argued that Awlaki — born in the United States or not — was an enemy combatant and could be treated as such. On Sept. 30, he was killed in a drone attack in Yemen.

    A little “yippee” emitted from me when I heard the news. Awlaki was a traitor to his country and its values. He was allegedly a senior recruiter for al-Qaeda and was linked to the Fort Hood shooting suspect Nidal Malik Hasan as well as other attempted terror acts. Awlaki was not shy about his activities, and so they, not to mention his allegiance, were not in question.

    There was a question, though, about what to do with him. The Constitution is persnickety about due process, the right to a trial and so on. Awlaki’s citizenship seemed to complicate matters, although in the view of some it should not have. He was an enemy combatant, pure and simple. We were at war, pure and simple, and his life could be taken.

    But according to those who have seen it, there is a hint in the Justice Department memo that this was never a pure and simple case. We are told that one reason Justice concluded Awlaki could be killed was because he was in the wilds of Yemen and could not be captured. It seemed some thought was given to his citizenship; otherwise, why even bother to consider his capture? About 2,000 militants have been killed by drones — and not because they couldn’t be captured. They were killed not only because they deserved to be but because they could be. Former attorney general Michael B. Mukasey even suggests in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that these militants were killed because the Obama administration, having ruled out harsh interrogation, had no use for them.

    The Justice Department memo and its acknowledgment of Awlaki’s citizenship are ample proof that the Obama administration realized it was crossing a line. But it did so on the sneak — a memo, still secret, written by two lawyers you and I never heard of.

    We live in a soft police state. It’s not a film-noir one, based on ideology and punctuated by the crunch of hobnailed boots, but one created in response to terrorism and crime. Cameras follow us. Our travels, our purchases, are recorded. Our computers and cellphones snitch on us. There’s no Orwellian Big Brother, just countless little ones, all of them righteously on the lookout for the bad guys. It’s necessary, I suppose. It will be abused, I don’t suppose.

    The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized Awlaki’s killing. But so far, the only politician of note to do so is Rep. Ron Paul, the Republican presidential candidate with a touching reverence for the Constitution as written. “Al-Awlaki was born here; he’s an American citizen. He was never tried or charged for any crimes,” he exclaimed. Paul, though, gets dismissed as a constitutional kvetch.

    I do not share Paul’s indignation, but I do his dismay. Something big and possibly dangerous has happened . . . in secret. Government’s most awesome power — to take a life — has been exercised on one of its own citizens without benefit of trial. A guy named Barron and another named Lederman apparently said it was okay. Maybe it was. But I’d sure like to hear the attorney general or the president explain why.

    © The Washington Post Company


  11. Bin Laden and Awlaki: Lawful Targets

    October 26, 2011 by Major Shane Reeves and Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy Marsh
    Created 10/26/2011 – 16:23

    “Major Shane Reeves is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Law at the United States Military Academy and Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy Marsh is an Assistant Professor and Senior Military Faculty member in the Department of Law at the United States Air Force Academy. Prior to these assignments, both taught as Associate Professors for the International and Operational Law Department at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, Charlottesville, VA.

    The views expressed herein are solely those of the authors and do not reflect the official positions of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Army, the Department of the Air Force, or the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of either service.”

    Many have challenged the legality of the 2011 United States’ operations that resulted in the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki. Pakistan condemned the Bin Laden operation as a violation of international law; human rights advocates asserted that each man should have been captured instead of killed; and others claimed the operations were unlawful “assassinations” or, in the case of Awlaki, a violation of his constitutional rights as an American citizen. These criticisms are all without merit.

    An important threshold question to answer in determining the legality of both attacks is whether al-Qaeda is a transnational criminal enterprise or an organized armed group at war with the United States. If al-Qaeda is a transnational criminal organization, akin to the American-Sicilian mafia, then domestic criminal law controls and capturing members is required save in extreme cases of individual self-defense. However, if the United States and al-Qaeda are at war, than the laws of war control and lethal targeting is allowed. Critics of both operations assume that the applicable legal framework is one of criminal law enforcement and international human rights law. This assumption is wrong. The answer to this question is well-established: since September 11, 2001, the United States has been engaged in a congressionally-authorized armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces pursuant to its inherent right of self-defense.

    This inherent right, recognized by the United Nations Security Council after 9/11, provides an exception to the legal principle that no nation may use military force to violate the sovereign territory of another nation. Pakistan is quick to claim a violation of its sovereignty. International law, however, permits the United States to pursue its right of self-defense in a safe harbor nation if that nation is “unwilling or unable” to effectively deal with the threat. Given Bin Laden’s location in Abbottabad for the past five years, it is quite obvious that Pakistan was in fact unwilling and/or unable to address the threat. Therefore, the United States lawfully entered Pakistan’s sovereign territory in order to carry out this military operation.

    Similarly, the United States’ incursion into Yemen clearly complies with international law. Unlike Pakistan, the United States targeted Awlaki at the invitation of the Yemeni government and therefore an “unwilling or unable” determination was unnecessary. Yemen’s consent to the Awlaki operation obviates any legal sovereignty debates and pre-empts any future allegations that the United States violated Yemen’s territorial sovereignty.

    Even if the United States can pursue self-defense in Pakistan and Yemen, one must consider whether they can do so as part of an armed conflict. In September 2010, in court filings related to the possible targeting of Awlaki in Yemen, the Obama Administration made clear that the armed conflict against al-Qaeda includes the authority to target, and kill, belligerents away from the “hot” battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. The realities of globalization, coupled with the proliferation of transnational terrorism, provide belligerents opportunities to successfully carry out hostile activities far away from an active battlefield. It defies international law, logic, and practicality to give such belligerents legal protection from targeting based on their location. Instead, armed conflict, and the targeting authorities associated with it, must follow the belligerents.

    Lawful targets are generally easy to recognize in an armed conflict between two nations. National armed forces, such as the United States Army, are comprised of uniformed individuals, who openly carry weapons, comply with the laws of war, and operate within a recognized chain of command. These individuals, known as “combatants,” may be attacked at any time or place regardless of the threat they pose to the enemy assuming they are not wounded or attempting to surrender. All others on the battlefield are protected from attack unless they decide to forfeit this protection by directly participating in the hostilities. This clear delineation between combatants and non-combatants allows for concrete determinations of who is or is not a lawful target while simultaneously protecting civilians from the brutality of warfare.
    In contrast, the United States’ armed conflict with al-Qaeda involves a traditional armed force engaging an unaffiliated armed group whose members conduct hostilities without uniforms while mixing with civilians. Al-Qaeda’s intermingling with civilians obviously poses a challenge to the United States in discerning who is a lawful target. However, once positively identified, simply looking like a civilian does not afford al-Qaeda members protection from attack as, similar to a conflict between nations, their choice to engage in hostilities makes them lawful targets.

    The law distinguishes between those individuals who sporadically participate in hostilities in support of a non-state-affiliated armed force, such as a farmer paid to occasionally shoot at American soldiers, and those individuals who consistently perform hostile acts, such as a fully integrated member of al-Qaeda. Under international law, the farmer is only exposed to attack for the limited time in which he or she is directly participating in hostilities. In essence, such a person can move in and out of combatant status. This “revolving door” between civilian and combatant status however does not apply to those al-Qaeda operatives who continuously function in a combat role by repeatedly taking part in the hostilities. These individuals, much like a combatant in an armed conflict between nations, are lawful targets irrespective of their location or immediate activities.

    As the commander of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden long ago forfeited any protections from targeting. His leadership role of an organized armed group amounted to a continuous combat function, enabling him to be targeted, and killed, based on his status, not his conduct. Consequently, it is irrelevant whether he was armed and resisting when he was killed. In addition, there was no duty for the SEAL team to attempt capture. This was not a domestic policing action requiring arrest, but rather a wartime decision governed by the laws of war, which clearly permit the use of deadly force against a lawful target as a first resort. Unless he plainly manifested an intent to surrender, or was wounded, the United States had clear legal authority to kill Bin Laden.

    Like Bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki was an operational leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an organized armed group affiliated with al-Qaeda. Though some believe Awlaki was a mere propagandist, his active involvement in the planning and direction of the November 2009 attack on Fort Hood, the 2009 Christmas day (underwear) bomb attempt, the May 2010 Times Square bomb attempt, and the more recent attempt to load explosives onto cargo flights bound for the United States dispel any claims that he was not acting in a combat role. Awlaki’s operational leadership role in these and other combat activities make him, like Bin Laden, the equivalent of an “enemy combatant,” whom the United States could lawfully target and kill.

    Unlike Osama Bin Laden, however, Awlaki was an American citizen whose death was the result not of a Special Forces raid but of a Predator “drone” strike. Despite complaints to the contrary, these facts do not alter the legal conclusion. As discussed above, the laws of war permit the targeting and killing of enemy combatants or those who continuously function in a combat role. Citizenship is not a factor in this determination. On more than one occasion, the United States Supreme Court has confirmed that a citizen who chooses to conduct hostilities against his home nation becomes an enemy combatant and is afforded no greater protection than any other enemy belligerent. Citizenship does not provide blanket immunity from targeting nor preclude a nation from defending itself.

    Further, the United States use of a remotely-piloted vehicle (“drone”) is undeniably a lawful means of attack. Once an individual gains enemy combatant status, or its equivalent through a continuous combat function, any means of attack that complies with the law of war principles of distinction, proportionality, and unnecessary suffering is allowed. As the strike against Awlaki occurred in a remote Yemen desert with precision weaponry, the operation complied with all applicable law of war restrictions regarding targeting. Awlaki’s American citizenship and the use of a “drone” are, therefore, immaterial for targeting purposes and do not alter the conclusion that this was a lawful attack.

    The fact that the United States could target and kill Bin Laden and Awlaki in the locations and manner in which it did so admittedly makes some uncomfortable. The laws of war are based on a delicate balance between military necessity, the wartime necessity of killing and destroying military objectives in pursuit of a nation’s right of self-defense, and humanity, the wartime requirement of preventing unnecessary suffering and protecting the civilian population. Military necessity is what permitted the attacks on Bin Laden and Awlaki. Moreover, because these killings occurred as part of an armed conflict, they did not violate the US domestic law ban on assassination, which forbids murder for political purposes, not the targeting of lawful military objectives.

    The killings of Osama Bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki were legal under both international law and US domestic law. Pakistan’s complaints are not supported by international law and are a smokescreen to hide their embarrassment and internal instability. Further, those who argue that Bin Laden and Awlaki were illegally “executed,” “assassinated,” or should have been captured and tried ignore the unfortunate reality that in armed conflict, military necessity legally justifies the lethal targeting of those belligerents who choose to participate. Bin Laden and Awlaki both made this choice and, in turn, the United States exercised its legal prerogative to kill them.


  12. Al Qaeda in Yemen Targets More American Recruits
    By Catherine Herridge
    Published January 10, 2012 |

    Read more:

    Anwar Al-Awlaki may have been killed in a drone strike last fall, but the American cleric’s legacy is still a draw for potential American jihadist recruits, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are warning.

    A new FBI/Homeland Security intelligence bulletin, first obtained by Fox News, says al Qaeda in Yemen, also known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is determined to cultivate new American recruits and suggests a new memorial video, released in late December after the American cleric’s death in a CIA-led strike, may prompt his followers to act.

    Prepared for federal, state and local law enforcement, analysts write that the new tribute video “encourages Western-based Muslims to commit violence,” adding that the “video could inspire violent extremists in the West to conduct attacks.”

    Awlaki, who appears in the video released Dec. 20, speaks in English from beyond the grave, stating that “jihad against America is binding.”

    While the bulletin states, “We have no indication that the timing of the video’s release or any content … is related to specific, ongoing plotting against the homeland,” federal law enforcement and military are urged “to remain vigilant for signs of terrorist plotting and to report suspicious activities.”

    The warning was revealed as two new cases, one in Florida, the other in Maryland, underscore the threat of digital jihad. According to a criminal complaint released on Monday, 25-year-old Sami Osmakac was accused of attempting to use car bombs to target two Florida nightclubs, a sheriff’s office.

    Like Awlaki, Osmakac used the web to spread his alleged ideology of hate. Even after his arrest over the weekend, Osmakac’s Youtube videos were still online. In one 12-minute tape, provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute, he rambles on about Allah, circumcision and Marxism.

    In the second case, 24-year-old Maryland native Craig Baxam, a former member of the Army, made his first court appearance Monday after being accused of traveling to Somalia to join the al Qaeda affiliate, al-Shabaab. According to a criminal complaint, Baxam was radicalized on the Internet without any direct contact with a foreign terrorist organization. He allegedly read a piece about the day of judgment on an Islamist website.

    As part of its ongoing investigation of the cleric, the Fox News specials unit has learned that federal investigators are focusing on a member of AQAP identified in the video as Abu Yazeed.

    Yazeed is believed to be an American citizen who may have known Awlaki in the United States before traveling to Yemen to join the al Qaeda affiliate. A law enforcement source told Fox News that the appearance of Yazeed in such a high profile video was more evidence AQAP was drawing new American recruits despite al-Awlaki’s death Sept. 30, 2011.

    The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Peter King, told Fox News that it is one thing to kill the cleric and quite another to kill his ideas.

    “Al-Awlaki — even though he is dead — his impact is going to continue probably more than anyone in the Islamic terrorist world. He was able to connect with Americans and his tapes, his words, his impact is going to live on. We have to keep that in mind. Al-Awlaki is dead but unfortunately his hate lives on,” said King, R-N.Y.

    In May, the House Homeland Security launched an official investigation into the cleric and his possible role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. King told Fox News in a phone interview that the FBI has not provided a single document — over an eight month period — to his investigators.

    “We’re in the situation where the FBI indicates that al-Awlaki was not really part of 9/11 but at the same time, (the FBI) does not make available to us all of the information we need. They still talk about ongoing investigations,” King said. “On the one hand trying to downplay the significance of al-Awlaki as far as pre 9/11 but at the same time denying us access to information that we believe is necessary to really close this out — to find out what the true impact and the true significance of al-Awlaki was in the events leading up to 9/11.”

    A spokesman for the FBI told Fox News that the bureau had briefed committee staff and a briefing was being scheduled with King.

    Fox News Chief Intelligence Correspondent Catherine Herridge’s bestselling book “The Next Wave: On the Hunt for al Qaeda’s American Recruits” was published by Crown on June 21st. It draws on her reporting for Fox News into Anwar al-Awlaki , the digital jihad and the cleric’s new generation of recruits — al Qaeda 2.0.

    Read more:


  13. Obama Team to Break Silence on al-Awlaki Killing
    Jan 23, 2012 12:00 AM EST
    Inside the White House debate over how to talk about al Qaeda’s Anwar al-Awlaki.

    After months of internal debate, the Obama administration is planning to reveal publicly the legal reasoning behind its decision to kill the American-born leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Anwar al-Awlaki.

    Awlaki, whom American officials had identified as the chief of external operations for the al Qaeda affiliate, was killed in a CIA drone strike last September in Northern Yemen. The targeted killing was one of the most controversial actions in Barack Obama’s war on terror. Civil libertarians and human-rights activists have argued that it amounted to a summary execution on the basis of secret evidence and without due process. Defenders of the administration have maintained that the killing was a necessary and lawful act of war to prevent an imminent threat to the safety of the American people.

    But the Obama administration itself has said next to nothing about it. At a farewell ceremony for retiring Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen just hours after the strike became public, Obama hailed “the death of Awlaki,” calling it a “major blow” in the fight against al Qaeda. But he made no mention of U.S. involvement in the operation. (The CIA’s drone program is classified and therefore not publicly acknowledged by government officials.)

    Now the administration is poised to take its case directly to the American people. In the coming weeks, according to four participants in the debate, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. is planning to make a major address on the administration’s national-security record. Embedded in the speech will be a carefully worded but firm defense of its right to target U.S. citizens. Holder’s remarks will draw heavily on a secret Justice Department legal opinion that provided the justification for the Awlaki killing. The legal memorandum, portions of which were described to The New York Times last October, asserted that it would be lawful to kill Awlaki as long as it was not feasible to capture him alive—and if it could be demonstrated that he represented a real threat to the American people. Further, administration officials contend, Awlaki was covered under the congressional grant of authority to wage war against al Qaeda in the wake of 9/11.

    An early draft of Holder’s speech identified Awlaki by name, but in a concession to concerns from the intelligence community, all references to the al Qaeda leader were removed. As currently written, the speech makes no overt mention of the Awlaki operation, and reveals none of the intelligence the administration relied on in carrying out his killing. (White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to comment).

    That circumspect approach contrasts dramatically with the administration’s posture in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death, when the president personally addressed the nation to announce the al Qaeda leader’s demise, and key members of his team provided on-the-record accounts of the operation in almost novelistic detail. But the circumstances of that operation differ in crucial respects from the Awlaki strike. The latter involved the CIA’s still secret drone program, and Awlaki was American-born, adding an additional level of sensitivity.

    In the aftermath of the Awlaki operation, civil libertarians and some prominent members of Congress called on the administration to make its legal analysis public. Some supporters of disclosure, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, have made the case to Obama officials that speaking openly would be the best way to maintain public support for a program that they believe is necessary but remains controversial.

    For Obama the question pitted two core principles that he has, at times, struggled to balance: rolling back the Bush administration’s penchant for secrecy in counterterrorism, and adequately protecting the intelligence community’s most sensitive sources and methods. Obama had guided U.S. counterterrorism policy in a difficult political environment and has often disappointed his liberal base, which believes he has sided with the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush, a surprising amount of the time.

    The calls for transparency in discussing the Awlaki strike were batted away at first. But behind the scenes, several prominent lawyers in the national-security bureaucracy began lobbying their colleagues and superiors for some degree of disclosure. Among them were Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department general counsel, and Harold Hongju Koh, the State Department legal adviser. The national-security “principals” quickly divided into camps. The CIA and other elements of the intelligence community were opposed to any disclosures that could lift the veil of secrecy from a covert program. Others, notably the Justice and State departments, argued that the killing of an American citizen without trial, while justified in rare cases, was so extraordinary it demanded a higher level of public explanation. Among the proposals discussed in the fall: releasing a “white paper” based on the Justice memo, publishing an op-ed article in The New York Times under Holder’s byline, and making no public disclosures at all.

    The issue came to a head at a Situation Room meeting in November. At lower-level interagency meetings, Obama officials had already begun moving toward a compromise. David Petraeus, the new CIA director whose agency had been wary of too much disclosure, came out in support of revealing the legal reasoning behind the Awlaki killing so long as the case was not explicitly discussed. Petraeus, according to administration officials, was backed up by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence. (The CIA declined to comment.) The State Department, meanwhile, continued to push for fuller disclosure. One senior Obama official who continued to raise questions about the wisdom of coming out publicly at all was Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security director. She argued that the calls for transparency had quieted down, as one participant characterized her view, so why poke the hornet’s nest? Another senior official expressing caution about the plan was Kathryn Ruemmler, the White House counsel. She cautioned that the disclosures could weaken the government’s stance in pending litigation. The New York Times has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration under the Freedom of Information Act seeking the release of the Justice Department legal opinion in the Awlaki case. (The department has declined to provide the documents requested.)

    It came down to what Denis McDonough, the deputy national-security adviser, cheekily called the “half Monty” versus the “full Monty,” after the British movie about a male striptease act. In the end, the principals settled on the half Monty. As the State Department’s Koh continued to push for the maximum amount of disclosure, McDonough began referring to that position as “the full Harold.”

    A number of Obama officials supported the move in part because they considered it the right policy, but also because it represented an opportunity to separate themselves from the Bush administration. “We need to show we’re different,” said one senior official, who declined to be named. “If you let these things fester, they become part of the narrative.”

    In the end, there was a consensus that the best vehicle would be an upcoming speech on national-security policy that Holder wanted to give. The model was a low-key address that the State Department’s Koh gave in March 2010 on the legal theories underpinning the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policies. Buried deep in the speech, Koh defended the legality of targeted killing without explicitly confirming the CIA’s secret drone program. The address, delivered at a meeting of international lawyers, was widely praised for its forthright, if narrowly drawn, approach to a controversial policy.

    A recommendation to go public on Awlaki was made by the national-security “principals” in November and received a provisional signoff from the White House last week. Tom Donilon, the national-security adviser, then circulated a decision memorandum to be signed by key officials throughout the government. It included a five-page draft of Holder’s proposed remarks on the legal rationale for the Awlaki strike.

    No venue has been selected yet for the Holder speech. But as he prepares his address, the administration is resuming its drone strikes on al Qaeda. Late last week, U.S. officials confirmed to Reuters that Aslam Awan, a senior operations chief for al Qaeda, was killed in an attack in North Waziristan. The debate over the CIA’s covert program will linger long after Holder has made his remarks.

    Like The Daily Beast on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for updates all day long.

    Klaidman, a former NEWSWEEK managing editor, is writing a book on President Obama and terrorism to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2012.


  14. Obama’s Kill Doctrine

    Trust us, Attorney General Eric Holder says — we’ll only assassinate Americans after administrative “due process.” That’s not how the Constitution works, buddy.


    On Monday, March 5, Northwestern University School of Law was the location of an extraordinary scene for a free nation. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder presented President Barack Obama’s claim that he has the authority to kill any U.S. citizen he considers a threat. It served as a retroactive justification for the slaying of American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki last September by a drone strike in northeastern Yemen, as well as the targeted killings of at least two other Americans during Obama’s term.

    What’s even more extraordinary is that this claim, which would be viewed by the Framers of the U.S. Constitution as the very definition of authoritarian power, was met not with outcry but muted applause. Where due process once resided, Holder offered only an assurance that the president would kill citizens with care. While that certainly relieved any concern that Obama, or his successor, would hunt citizens for sport, Holder offered no assurances on how this power would be used in the future beyond the now all-too-familiar “trust us” approach to civil liberties of this administration.

    In his speech, Holder was clear and unambiguous on only one point: “The president may use force abroad against a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war — even if that individual happens to be a U.S. citizen.” The use of the word “abroad” is interesting because senior administration officials have previously asserted that the president may kill an American anywhere and anytime, including within the United States. Holder’s speech does not materially limit that claimed authority, but stressed that “our legal authority is not limited to the battlefields in Afghanistan.” He might as well have stopped at “limited” because the administration has refused to accept any limitations on this claimed inherent power.

    Holder became highly cryptic in his assurance that caution would be used in exercising this power — suggesting some limitation that is both indefinable and unreviewable. He promised that the administration would kill Americans only with “the consent of the nation involved or after a determination that the nation is unable or unwilling to deal effectively with a threat to the United States.” He did not explain how the nation in question would consent or how a determination would be made that it is “unable or unwilling to deal” with the threat.

    Of course, the citizens of the United States once consented on a relevant principle when they ratified the Constitution and later the Bill of Rights. They consented to a government of limited powers where citizens are entitled to the full protections of due process against allegations by their government. That is clearly not the type of consent that Holder wants to revisit or discuss. Indeed, he insisted that “a careful and thorough executive branch review of the facts in a case amounts to ‘due process.'”

    Holder’s new definition of “due process” was perfectly Orwellian. While the Framers wanted an objective basis for due process, Holder was offering little more than “we will give the process that we consider due to a target.” And even the vaguely described “due process” claimed by Holder was not stated as required, but rather granted, by the president. Three citizens have been given their due during the Obama administration and vaporized by presidential order. Frankly, few of us mourn their passing. However, due process appears to have been vaporized in the same moment — something many U.S. citizens may come to miss.

    What Holder is describing is a model of an imperial presidency that would have made Richard Nixon blush. If the president can kill a citizen, there are a host of other powers that fall short of killing that the president might claim, including indefinite detention of citizens — another recent controversy. Thus, by asserting the right to kill citizens without charge or judicial review, Holder has effectively made all of the Constitution’s individual protections of accused persons matters of presidential discretion. These rights will be faithfully observed up to the point that the president concludes that they interfere with his view of how best to protect the country — or his willingness to wait for “justice” to be done. And if Awlaki’s fate is any indication, there will be no opportunity for much objection.

    Already, the administration has successfully blocked efforts of citizens to gain review of such national security powers or orders. Not only is the list of citizens targeted with death kept secret, but the administration has insisted that courts do not play a role in the creation of or basis for such a list. Even when Awlaki’s family tried to challenge Obama’s kill order, the federal court declared that the cleric would have to file for himself — a difficult task when you are on a presidential hit list. Moreover, any attorney working with Awlaki would have risked being charged with aiding a terrorist.

    When the applause died down after Holder’s speech, we were left with a bizarre notion of government. We have this elaborate system of courts and rights governing the prosecution and punishment of citizens. However, that entire system can be circumvented at the whim or will of the president. The president then becomes effectively the lawgiver or lifetaker for all citizens. The rest becomes a mere pretense of the rule of law.

    Holder was describing the very model of government the Framers denounced in crafting both the Constitution and Bill of Rights. James Madison in particular warned that citizens should not rely on the good graces and good intentions of their leaders. He noted, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” The administration appears to have taken the quote literally as an invitation for unlimited authority for angels.

    Of course, even those who hold an angelic view of Obama today may come to find the next president less divine. In the end, those guardian angels will continue to claim to be acting in the best interests of every citizen — with the exception, of course, of those citizens killed by them.


  15. Obama’s counter-terrorism advisor defends drone strikes

    Counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan says drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia have saved American lives and that civilian casualties have been rare.

    By Brian Bennett and David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times

    9:29 PM PDT, April 30, 2012


    WASHINGTON — President Obama’s top counter-terrorism advisor Monday defended using drones to launch missiles against militants in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, saying the growing use of armed unmanned aircraft had saved American lives and caused few civilian casualties.

    The comments by John Brennan, coming shortly before the first anniversary of the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, marks the first time a senior White House official has spoken at length in public about widely reported but officially secret drone operations.

    The administration’s reliance on drones has stirred deep controversy at home and abroad. On Sunday, unmanned aircraft killed at least three suspected militants in the tribal region of northern Pakistan; such strikes have led to angry accusations that U.S. drones have killed or injured hundreds of civilians over three years.

    But in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington think tank, Brennan said civilian casualties from U.S. drones were “exceedingly rare” and were rigorously investigated.

    “We take it seriously,” he said. “We go back and review our actions.”

    Brennan said drones have reduced risks for U.S. pilots and crews, limited accidental casualties and helped prevent American ground troops from being forced into broader conflicts.

    “Large, intrusive military deployments risk playing into Al Qaeda’s strategy of trying to draw us into long, costly wars that drain us financially, inflame anti-American resentment and inspire the next generation of terrorists,” he said.

    In his speech, Brennan sought to answer critics who for years have demanded information on how U.S. officials decide whom they can kill in drone attacks and how often civilians have been accidentally killed.

    “We only authorize a particular operation against a specific individual if we have a high degree of confidence that the individual being targeted is indeed the terrorist we are pursuing,” Brennan said. “This is a very high bar.”

    An individual must be deemed by U.S. intelligence to be actively involved in a plot to attack American forces, facilities or other targets, Brennan said. The intelligence is vetted at high levels, and the decision to fire a missile is made with “extraordinary care and thoughtfulness,” he said.

    Brennan did not outline who takes part in the discussions or what standards of evidence are sufficient to launch a missile.

    Four American citizens have been killed in drone strikes, including militant Anwar Awlaki in Yemen. Two other Americans identified as Al Qaeda supporters were inadvertently slain in drone strikes, and Awlaki’s teenage son, who was not considered a militant, was killed in a strike weeks after his father’s death.

    Brennan provided little clarity on what safeguards are used in cases involving the targeting of U.S. citizens. “We ask ourselves additional questions,” he said without elaboration.

    Critics challenged Brennan’s depiction of drone strikes as legal and precise.

    “It is dangerous to give the president the authority to order the extrajudicial killing of any person, including any American, he believes to be a terrorist,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “The administration insists that the program is closely supervised, but to propose that a secret deliberation that takes place entirely within the executive branch constitutes due process is to strip the 5th Amendment of its essential meaning.”

    Until recently, no Obama administration official had publicly acknowledged the CIA’s covert drone program, although hundreds of drone strikes have been reported in northern Pakistan since 2009, and a few have taken place in Yemen and Somalia. The U.S. military also has used armed drones against targets in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

    Brennan emphasized throughout his speech that drone strikes are carried out against “individual terrorists.” He did not mention so-called signature strikes, a type of attack the U.S. has used in Pakistan against facilities and suspected militants without knowing the target’s name.

    When asked later by a member of the audience whether the standards he outlined for drone attacks also applied to signature strikes, Brennan said he was not speaking of signature strikes but that all attacks launched by the U.S. are done in accordance with the rule of law.

    The White House this month approved the use of signature strikes in Yemen after U.S. officials previously insisted that it would target only people whose names are known. The new rules permit attacks against individuals suspected of militant activities, even when their names are unknown or only partially known, a U.S. official said.

    Brennan did not refer to the expanded authority for drone strikes in Yemen, but he described Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot group based in Yemen, as “Al Qaeda’s most active affiliate.”

    Obama first publicly acknowledged the classified drone program Jan. 30 when he said the U.S. has to be “judicious in how we use drones,” in response to a question about attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

    Brennan said Monday that he was discussing drones because the president “has instructed us to be more open with the American people about these efforts.”

    Drone strikes have helped reduce the ability of Al Qaeda to launch attacks in the United States, Brennan said. Over time, he said, he hopes to be able to reduce the pace of drone strikes, as “Al Qaeda fades into history” and “our partners grow stronger.”

    Ten minutes into Brennan’s remarks, a woman stood in the front of the audience and began denouncing the targeting of U.S. citizens with drones.

    As a security guard picked her up and carried her out of the room, the woman continued shouting. “I love my country,” she said. “You are making us less safe by killing people around the world. Shame on you.”

    Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times


    Posted by Steve Coll
    The New Yorker

    On September 30, 2011, in a northern province of Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and a senior figure in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, finished his breakfast and walked with several companions to vehicles parked nearby. Before he could drive away, a missile fired from a drone operated by the Central Intelligence Agency struck the group and killed Awlaki, as well as a second American citizen, of Pakistani origin, whom the drone operators did not realize was present.

    President Barack Obama had personally authorized the killing. “I want Awlaki,” he is said to have told his advisers at one point. “Don’t let up on him.” The President’s bracing words about a fellow American are reported in “Kill or Capture,” a recent and important book on the Obama Administration’s detention and targeted-killing programs, by Daniel Klaidman, a former deputy editor of Newsweek.

    With those words attributed to Obama, Klaidman has reported what would appear to be the first instance in American history of a sitting President speaking of his intent to kill a particular U.S. citizen without that citizen having been charged formally with a crime or convicted at trial.

    The due-process clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibits “any person” from being deprived of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Obama authorized the termination of Awlaki’s life after he concluded that the boastful, mass-murder-plotting cleric had, in effect, forfeited constitutional protection by waging war against the United States and actively planning to kill Americans. Obama also believed that the Administration’s secret process establishing Awlaki’s guilt provided adequate safeguards against mistake or abuse—all in all, enough “due process of law” to take his life.

    Awlaki was certainly a murderous character; his YouTube videos alone would likely convict him at a jury trial. Yet the case of Awlaki’s killing by drone strike is to the due-process clause what the proposed march of neo-Nazis through a community that included many Holocaust survivors in Skokie, Illinois, was to the First Amendment when that case arose, in 1977. It is an instance where the most onerous facts imaginable should lead to the durable affirmation of constitutional principle, as Skokie did. Instead, President Obama and his advisers have opened the door to violent action against American citizens by future Presidents when the facts may be much less compelling.

    Last March, Eric Holder, the Attorney General, delivered an address at Northwestern University in which he sought to explain and justify the Awlaki killing, without ever naming the victim, apparently because such honesty would violate the Administration’s classification rules. Holder’s arguments are worth absorbing at length. He explained,

    Now, it is an unfortunate but undeniable fact that some of the threats we face come from a small number of United States citizens who have decided to commit violent attacks against their own country from abroad. Based on generations-old legal principles and Supreme Court decisions handed down during World War II, as well as during this current conflict, it’s clear that United States citizenship alone does not make such individuals immune from being targeted. But it does mean that the government must take into account all relevant constitutional considerations with respect to United States citizens—even those who are leading efforts to kill innocent Americans….
    An individual’s interest in making sure that the government does not target him erroneously could not be more significant. Yet it is imperative for the government to counter threats posed by senior operational leaders of al Qaeda, and to protect the innocent people whose lives could be lost in their attacks….

    Let me be clear: an operation using lethal force in a foreign country, targeted against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces, and who is actively engaged in planning to kill Americans, would be lawful at least in the following circumstances: First, the U.S. government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; second, capture is not feasible; and third, the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.

    It would be difficult to list all of the ways in which Holder’s arguments are disturbing. Overall, the large-scale targeted killing of non-Americans affiliated with Al Qaeda during the Obama Administration’s first term raises many questions about legality and transparency. The more recent addition of Klaidman’s reporting, however, calls attention to one area, infrequently discussed, where it seems clear that the Obama Administration has driven right through a constitutional stop sign. This involves the second of Holder’s three conditions for killing a U.S. citizen who has joined Al Qaeda and is actively planning to kill Americans—that is, “capture is not feasible.”

    Klaidman’s reporting suggests the title of his own book may be misplaced. “Kill or Capture” conjures an image of Obama and his counterterrorism advisers holding one anguished debate after another about whether to immolate terrorism suspects with Predator drones, as they did Awlaki, or send in Special Forces or local militias to capture the accused for trial. In fact, the book makes clear that the Obama Administration has judged again and again—almost routinely—that capturing terrorist suspects outside of Afghanistan (where there is a friendly host government and an extensive prison system) is not feasible.

    According to Klaidman, Obama’s advisers have concluded, for example, that the risk of creating political turmoil in Yemen is reason enough to avoid attempting an arrest there by, for example, landing Special Forces on the ground—as if Yemen were not already in a state of perpetual turmoil.

    Protecting American soldiers from potential death or injury during a risky capture operation is a second reason it was judged better to kill Awlaki by remote control. Of course, soldiers should not be placed at unreasonable risk if there is no way to deploy a force that can protect itself during a capture attempt. Surely, however, Special Forces commanders would regard the defense of American constitutional rightness as reason to shoulder at least some physical risks, just as American police officers routinely place themselves at risk by patiently surrounding an armed, defiant murder suspect’s house. They attempt to talk the suspect into surrender, even when it would be safer for the police themselves just to blow the house up.

    Even more disturbing is the evidence in Klaidman’s narrative suggesting that the Obama Administration leans toward killing terrorism suspects because it does not believe it has a politically attractive way to put them on trial. Federal criminal trials of terrorist suspects draw howls of protest from many Republicans, even though the George W. Bush Administration successfully prosecuted a number of high-profile terrorists in federal court. Military commissions, the Obama Administration’s reluctantly endorsed best-of-the-bad alternative to federal trials, are unpopular with civil-rights activists and European allies, for good reason, because of their relatively weak protections for defendants. But is political discomfort about this choice of trial venues a reason to override the Fifth Amendment, in the case of a targeted American citizen like Awlaki? Doesn’t the case-by-case application of the due-process clause require some extraordinary finding by the president that capture is not possible? Shouldn’t there be a bias in operations, when an American citizen is involved, toward making an arrest?

    “Come out with your hands up” may have been Hollywood’s whitewashed reimagining of how sheriffs warned suspected killers to surrender and face trial in the Wild West, or how G-men warned barricaded bank robbers to give up before they met death. Yet the words became cliché for a reason: they had the ring of justice even in the midst of tense scenes ridden with risk and the possibility of sudden violence.

    “To me, the weakness in the drone activity is that if there’s no one on the ground, and the person puts his hands out, he can’t surrender,” the retired vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Cartwright, told the journalist Tara McKelvey earlier this year. “What makes it worse with a Predator is you’re actually watching it. You know when he puts his hands up.”

    Holder and other Obama Administration legal hands have told Congress that they are convinced, after repeated reviews of classified evidence about targeted terrorism suspects, that the Obama Administration’s secret process for placing Al Qaeda leaders and operatives on death lists is careful, legal, and sound—even though a number of cases of mistaken targeting have been documented publicly.

    None of Obama’s legal advisers has testified similarly about what secret system and classified legal memos may exist for judging, in the case of an American citizen targeted overseas, whether and why a capture attempt may be feasible. Congress has the power to force such statements onto the public record. It must try; it is obvious by now that the Obama Administration will not volunteer them. Is “kill or capture” a policy, or are the words just a screen for politically convenient targeted killings?

    Read more


  17. Is drone war moral?
    UPDATED: A philosopher’s arguments in defense of drone strikes are both odious and wrong

    MONDAY, AUG 6, 2012 11:00 PM MPST

    “I see mothers with children, I see fathers with children, I see fathers with mothers, I see kids playing soccer … [but] I feel no emotional attachment to the enemy. I have a duty, and I execute the duty.” By their own accounts, drone pilots spend weeks stalking their targets — observing the intimate patterns of their daily life such as playing with their children, meeting neighbors, talking to their wives — before finding a moment when the family is away to launch the missile that will end their target’s life. Afterward they drive home like any other commuter, perhaps stopping at a fast food restaurant or convenience store before coming home to their families for the night. “I feel like I’m doing the same thing I’ve always done, I just don’t deploy to do it.”

    Recently, the Guardian published a piece about Bradley Strawser, an assistant professor of philosophy at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., which made the argument that drone strikes are not just moral but that the U.S. should in fact consider itself morally obliged to use them in combat. “It’s all upside. There’s no downside. Both ethically and normatively, there’s a tremendous value … You’re not risking the pilot. The pilot is safe.”

    That the overwhelming majority of Strawser’s argument is based on the reduced potential of physical harm to the aircraft pilot, while precious little concern is given the people on the ground — often completely innocent, who are being killed in huge numbers by these strikes — is certainly abhorrent. But it must also be noted that for all the attention his work is receiving, he is of course a paid employee of an institution devoted to serving the military and his opinion is far from unbiased. His livelihood comes from the very people whom he is tasked with philosophically critiquing, a circumstance far more conducive to obsequious rationalization than moral criticism. At the end of the piece he even expresses his own gratitude for receiving gainful employment in his field of study: “I wanted to be a working philosopher and here I am. Ridiculous good fortune.”

    Of course it would be nearly impossible for Strawser to come to a conclusion that would morally condemn the practice of his own employer, so in that sense it is difficult to fault him for coming to the conclusion he did. But it still does not mean that his philosophical opinions on such subjects are any more credible or less troubling – the employment of philosophers by governments and militaries to legitimize odious policies has a long and ignoble history and should be looked at as what it is: propaganda.

    Having said that, it is worth understanding (from a position less obviously fraught with bias) whether there is in fact a unique moral detriment involved in using remote-operated drones for combat. Drones are obviously not the first major advancement in military technology; the past century alone has brought about a plethora of different tools that have enabled human beings to kill each other with greater effectiveness and with greater detachment than ever before. The days of lining up in rows to fire muskets or charging enemy positions with swords and shields have long since passed, and the physical detachment of launching a cruise missile from great distance is arguably comparable to firing a Hellfire missile from a drone.

    Indeed, humans have been killing each other without even seeing each other’s faces since French Trebuchets launched projectiles at enemies miles away, and the artillery batteries of WW1 were able to inflict death from even longer distances and at even less personal risk. However, notwithstanding Bradley Strawser’s enthusiasm for the unprecedented degree of safety offered to the pilots of remote-operated drones, there are a few factors that make drone warfare particularly insidious and undercut his claims to its inherent morality.

    No Surrender

    Imagine a drone following a man who suddenly becomes aware of its presence. The pilot has orders to treat his target as hostile and is ready to pull the trigger. Frightened and aware of what is imminently coming, the man waves his hands to identify himself as non-threatening and to surrender to his enemy. The man, however, is standing on an embankment in North-Western Pakistan while the pilot who had been stalking him is thousands of miles away in the deserts of Nevada. There is no way to accept his surrender, and if a mistake has been made and this man has been misidentified as a target there is no way for this to be communicated. A pilot in this case would nonetheless be forced to pull the trigger, as there is no identifiable or feasible way for someone to surrender to an unmanned drone.

    Protocol I of the Geneva Convention clearly states that there is a legal requirement to accept the surrender of an individual who expresses the intent to surrender himself. Such a person is literally considered “outside of combat” and thus even if he is a combatant at the point where he surrenders he is as illegitimate a target as any other civilian. Drone warfare, of course, offers no inherent facility to deal with such individuals, save for killing them or conversely allowing them safe passage — the latter being an extremely unlikely outcome in most cases. The oft-horrific result of such a circumstance has been noted by the people most intimately familiar with the program itself. As former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright put it, “To me, the weakness in the drone activity is that if there’s no one on the ground, and the person puts his hands out, he can’t surrender … What makes it worse with a Predator is you’re actually watching it. You know when he puts his hands up.”

    In rationalizing such a scenario, one may perhaps argue that the Geneva Convention provisions that grant the right of surrender are themselves outdated and unsuitable to a new age of warfare. However, very few would be likely to waive this right for their own soldiers who one day may need to surrender, and declaring as antiquated the provisions of the international agreement that was created specifically to prevent a repeat of the mass bloodletting of World War II is a slippery slope.

    No ID

    “It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants, they count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”

    Roughly speaking, there are two types of drone strikes that can be carried out: ones where the identity of the target is known and ones where it is not. The latter are known as “signature strikes” – drone strikes that are carried out against targets whose names, ages, occupations and political sympathies are completely unknown but who are still killed based on the opinions of those observing from abroad as to whether they are connected to militant activity. Behavior that may arouse such suspicion includes a group of males meeting together in an area considered hostile, a car driving in an area where militants are believed to be operating and other highly speculative and unverifiable rationales. In the revelations about the Obama administration’s secret “kill lists,” it also came out what exactly the official definition of a “militant” is from the White House’s perspective: “All military-age males in a strike zone.” In other words: Every man killed by a drone is by official definition a militant according to the U.S. government and correspondingly the news organizations who release reports regularly citing “militant” deaths.

    Imagine sentencing someone to the death penalty without even knowing who they are and then after the fact branding them as a criminal and you will have an analogous situation to the drone war being fought in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. By any reasonable standard the tactics entailed in the drone campaign must fit into an accounting of its morality, yet this chilling and apparently integral aspect of drone warfare somehow manages to escape the scrutiny of Strawser. While he claims in his argument that drones are so accurate that they, by necessity, reduce civilian casualties, what he fails to realize in his Panglossian analysis is that in many cases the pilots are not even required to ascertain the identities of their intended targets. As many have noted, this policy of “kill first, ask questions later” is tantamount to extra-judicial murder and the supposed moral benefit of firing accurate missiles is greatly reduced when you don’t even know who is on the other end of them.

    No Cost

    In stark contrast to traditional means of fighting wars, drones are both inexpensive and safe for the military to operate, even on a large scale. The risk of friendly casualties alienating domestic support for the war is almost nil, and the relative unobtrusiveness (at home) of operating these aircraft means that the military can fight wars in multiple countries with the public barely noticing the impact. After all, by the traditional standard of what one would define as a “war,” the United States is indeed at war in Yemen, Somalia and parts of Pakistan; yet few Americans recognize it as being the case and, indeed, neither officially does the United States. That violence can be carried out on such a massive scale with so little scrutiny is one of the most important aspects of the drone war and perhaps its most insidious. In the past governments have often found their ability to wage wars abroad constrained by the citizenry who have borne the brunt of the social pressures these wars inevitably create. As such, the prospect of perpetual war fought on an expanding scale would have been impossible until very recently. Casualties would occur, enormous sums of money would be spent, and upon reaching a breaking point in stress the people would come out into the streets to demand an end to such policies.

    What the low-cost, zero casualties nature of the drone campaign does is compartmentalize the war away from public consciousness by taking away the externalities that would force people to take notice in the first place. That you can fight a drone war in Pakistan that kills thousands of people and terrorizes entire villages into PTSD while barely noticing it at home is something unique in history. Viewed in this light it is no wonder that Americans are so perplexed at Pakistani attitudes toward their country; because even though Pakistanis are intimately acquainted with the magnitude of suffering caused by U.S. policies in their country, most Americans scarcely feel the effects.

    Thus to a degree unprecedented in history the advent of drone warfare has given the government a free hand to wage wars without public constraint and with minimal oversight. What this makes possible is a future in which there are far more wars, which for all their relative unobtrusiveness at home will continue to ravage the lives of people abroad. While such wars may be safer for soldiers, they will engender resentment and retribution as all wars do, and as a whole will make the world a more dangerous place for Americans in the long term.

    President Obama’s “kill list,” which has been cleared so many times that it now includes among its high-value targets Yemeni teenage girls, is a manifestation of this policy of zero-consequence killing. With less public awareness there is necessarily less scrutiny and the war can continue while targeting people under an even wider definition of who constitutes “a threat.” While the people in these countries may be killed out of sight of the U.S. public, those on the receiving end certainly do remember who it was who ended the lives of their family members and are unlikely to be as laid-back toward civilian deaths as philosophers such as Strawser. As the Yemeni lawyer Haykal Banafa put it in a message directed at the president, “Dear Obama, when a U.S. drone missile kills a child in Yemen, the father will go to war with you, guaranteed. Nothing to do with Al Qaeda.”

    When viewed in complete isolation from other factors, the arguments that Strawser and other apologists for the drone war use about reducing military casualties can certainly be viewed as compelling and valid. As long as they have been fighting wars humans have sought out new technologies that would enhance their ability to kill without putting themselves in harm’s way. That fewer soldiers on one’s own side die in war is certainly a positive moral outcome when viewed in abstraction.

    However, the drone war as a whole can only be viewed as a “moral obligation” if one ignores the massive destruction it continues to wreak upon the lives of those who are being killed by these weapons. Strawser’s analysis neatly brushes aside this group, as his argument can only stand on its own if the victims of drones are classed as immaterial non-humans. Far from being a uniquely moral weapon as Strawser claims, drones by their nature help facilitate more and longer wars, and do not even afford those targeted the ability to surrender or to identify themselves as non-combatants, a right enshrined in the Geneva Convention. While he understandably would like to brush aside these moral qualms about an establishment that has generously employed him as an in-house philosopher, they are nonetheless real and no amount of propaganda can plausibly turn the drone warfare into a “moral obligation” as he attempts.

    Drones are thus not just a new weapon with which to fight conventional wars; they represent a sea change in the way conflicts in general are approached. Low-cost, low-risk killing will mean fewer questions and less scrutiny and ever higher body counts as the number of drones in the air continues to increase exponentially. The real ethical obligation is to remain vigilant against morally cretinous arguments such as the one put forth by Strawser and to fight against the normalization of a new, dangerous and in many respects fundamentally immoral form of warfare. That there is “no downside,” as Strawser claims, is only from the perspective of the military establishment he is a mouthpiece for; for the rest of us the downside is very real.

    UPDATE: Professor Strawser has written a follow-up to his original Guardian article in which he says some of his views in the original article were misattributed or misconstrued. While the piece does not address the issues brought up here about the inherently immoral aspects of the drone war, his piece is still worth reading to give a more complete picture of his own position and the context in which it came about.


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