Anwar al-Awlaki killed in drone strike; ACLU charges illegality

US-born purported al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki was killed Sept. 30 in a drone strike outside the town of Khashef in Yemen‘s Jawf province. At least three of al-Awlaki’s companions were also killed in the same strike, including fellow US citizen Samir Khan, editor of the slick al-Qaeda magazine Inspire. President Obama hailed the killing as “a major blow to al-Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate,” saying the death “marks another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al Qaeda.” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said the killing was part of a US counter-terrorism program that “violates both US and international law.”

US officials added al-Awlaki two years ago to a list of targets the military is authorized to kill. He was the only publicly known name among the US citizens on the list. “For two years since Awlaki has reportedly been added to a kill list, the administration has made a lot of statements to the press but has presented no evidence to a court,” said Ben Wizner, the National Security Project litigation director at the ACLU. “There’s a distinction between allegations and evidence that’s pretty critical here. Our argument isn’t that you need to go to a court just to make the claim that he is an imminent threat, but placing someone on a kill list for months or years seems fundamentally inconsistent with the legal definition of ‘imminent,’ and so there’s really no reason why a judicial role can’t happen here.” (CNN, Huffington Post, Saba, Mother Jones, The Guardian, Sept. 30)

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  1. Awlaki connection named in NYC terror plot
    Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr., held a press conference Nov. 20 to announce the arrest of a man plotting to plant bombs around New York City. A native of the Dominican Republic, naturalized US citizen, and Islamic convert, Jose Pimentel had come close to completing at least three bombs, Kelly said. The New York Times account emphasizes:

    Mr. Pimentel spoke about traveling to “Yemen for training before returning to New York to become a martyr in the name of jihad,” Mr. Kelly said. While Mr. Kelly noted that Mr. Pimentel never ended up going to Yemen, at one point Mr. Pimentel had e-mailed Mr. Awlaki in an attempt to open a line of communication. The cleric did not respond, the authorities said.

  2. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Trayvon Martin
    Denver-born 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, son of Anwar al-Awlaki, was apparently killed in a US drone strike in Yemen in October, although this was not acknowledged by Washington. (WP, Oct. 22) This casts Obama’s outrage over the death of Trayvon Martin in a rather ironic light, as an opinion piece on points out.

  3. Rights groups sue over deaths from CIA drone strikes
    The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit July 18 challenging the US government’s targeted killing of three US citizens in drone strikes. Alleged al-Qaeda leader and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaqi was killed by drone strike last September along with another US citizen, Samir Khan. Two weeks later drone strikes killed 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaqi, Anwar al-Awlaqi’s son. The plaintiffs claim that senior CIA and military officials violated the Constitution and international law when they authorized and directed the drone strikes, which they claim occurred outside of armed conflict. (Jurist, July 18)