'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki 

UPDATE: Was there a deal that enabled Saleh to return to Yemen in return for assistance in killing al-Awlaki? Here was some of the reaction in Yemen:

Fayza Sulieman, a protest leader, said: We always question the timing of these announcements from our government, Saleh is on the backfoot and on the verge of stepping down and suddenly Anwar Awlaki is killed. We all know that Saleh's fight against Al-Qaida is the only thread of support keeping him in office. We pray that this news does not distract the world from our struggle against this tyrannical regime.

Walid al-Matari, an opposition protester at Sana'a's Change Square: They told us about his death in Friday prayer sermons, so what, as revolutionaries it's none our business. Saleh wants to cause problems, position himself as saviour, to get more support. We are not interested in Anwar Awlaki, this is just one man. Our fight is against the corrupt regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh.

INITIAL POST: The US has killed Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Intelligence officials provided the following justification:

Following the strike, a U.S. official outlined new details of al-Awlaki's involvement in anti-U.S. operation, including the attempted 2009 Christmas Day bombing of a U.S.-bound aircraft. The official said that al-Awlaki specifically directed the men accused of trying to bomb the Detroit-bound plane to detonate an explosive device over U.S. airspace to maximize casualties.

The official also said al-Awlaki had a direct role in supervising and directing a failed attempt to bring down two U.S. cargo aircraft by detonating explosives concealed inside two packages mailed to the U.S. The U.S. also believes Awlaki had sought to use poisons, including cyanide and ricin, to attack Westerners.

The U.S. and counterterrorism officials all spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence matters.

And, then, there was this exchange between Jake Tapper of ABC and White House press secretary Jay Carney:

Tapper: You said that al-Awlaki was demonstrably and provably involved in operations. Do you plan on demonstrating or proving –

Carney: I — Jake, you know, I should step back. I — he is clearly — I mean, provably may be a legal term. I think it has been well established, and it has certainly been the position of this administration and the previous administration, that he is a leader in — was a leader in AQAP; that AQAP was a definite threat, was operational, planned and carried out terrorist attacks that, fortunately, did not succeed but were extremely serious, including the ones specifically that I mentioned in terms of the would-be Christmas Day bombing in 2009 and the attempt to bomb numerous cargo planes headed for the United States; and that he was obviously also an active recruiter of al-Qaida terrorists. So I don't think anybody in the field would dispute any of those assertions.

Tapper: You don't think anybody else in the government would dispute them.

Carney: I think any — well, I wouldn't know of any credible terrorist expert who dispute the fact that he was a leader in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and that he was operationally involved in terrorist attacks against American interests and citizens.

Tapper: Do you plan on bringing before the public any proof of these charges?

Carney: Again, this is — the question is — makes us – you know, has embedded within it assumptions about the circumstances of his death that I'm just not going to address.

So, the bottom line is that Anwar al-Awlaki was killed because of the President's reliance upon the determinations of unknown credible terrrorist experts who had access to information that is not going to publicized. Hence, we have no idea as to whether he did any of things that have been attributed to him, and the quality of the evidence against him. You may recall that the evidence against the detainees at the Guantanamo hearings wasn't very impressive.

Ron Paul and a few others have expressed alarm about the assassination of al-Awlaki, but, predictably, they place too much emphasis upon the fact that al-Awlaki was an American citizen. Meanwhile, Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights appeared to concede that such killings may be acceptable in war zones. In fact there is no meaningful distinction between the killing of al-Awlaki and the many others who have died as a consequence of drone strikes and night raids around the world. Information is limited, but the US military admits that approximately 1000 people were killed as a consequence of these attacks in 2008, with another 400 to 500 killed in 2009. With the increased reliance upon these methods in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2010 and 2011, the numbers of the dead have probably increased. Not surprisingly, the death of Samir Khan, who was unfortunate enough to be with al-Awlaki at the time of the attack, is drawing little attention.

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