Before the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki slips off the media’s radar screen, I hope we insist on one important question being answered: What, precisely, did Awlaki do to warrant his being killed by American forces?
I am not particularly concerned with Awlaki’s U.S. citizenship. He left the United States and joined a terrorist organization, Al Qaeda, against which the United States essentially declared war in 2001. As Bob Woodward reported in the Washington Post 10 years ago:
Since the Ford administration, all presidents have signed an executive order banning the CIA or any other U.S. government agency from involvement in political assassination. Generally speaking, lawyers for the White House and the CIA have said that the ban does not apply to wartime when the military is striking the enemy’s command and control or leadership targets.
And as Scott Wilson wrote in the Post on Friday, “citizenship is not a factor in determining whether a person can be lawfully killed under the laws of war.”
But I think we ought to know whether Awlaki was merely a propagandist for terror or if, as U.S. officials contend, he was actually involved in planning and operations. If any evidence has been released, I haven’t seen it.
Scott Shane wrote in the New York Times on Friday that Awlaki “participated in plots to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009 and to bomb two cargo planes last year” and “was fighting alongside the enemy in the armed conflict with Al Qaeda.” If those statements are true, I think the White House owes it to us — and to the world — to release whatever proof it has gathered.