Can Obama kill anyone?

2011-10-15 09:03

Unless the Obama administration wants to arrogate to itself the role of world policeman, it shouldn’t be in the business of executing, extrajudicially, anyone it wants to, writes Robert Dreyfuss.

Now we know what embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh meant when he cryptically told reporters from The Washington Post and Time on Thursday: “We are fighting the al-Qaeda organisation in Abyan (in Yemen) in coordination with the Americans and Saudis.”

The defiant Saleh, who’s long promoted himself as an asset in America’s seemingly nonstop Long War on Terrorism, apparently knows what he’s talking about.

Hours later, Yemen’s military announced a missile strike had killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the bombastic, US-born Islamist who’s been linked to al-Qaeda and to recent terrorist attempts against the US.

He’s not quite Osama bin Laden, whose demise in Pakistan in April helped spark the current US-Pakistan confrontation. But Awlaki’s assassination – and that’s what it was – is a signal that the Barack Obama administration intends to pursue the Long War on Terrorism to the ends of the earth, regardless of the consequences, even if it means the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen.

Not that killing non-citizens is kosher, but killing an American isn’t.

Still, rules are rules, and American citizens are supposed to have legal and civil rights that protect them from political or prosecutorial assassinations, even if they’re bad guys. Apparently, no longer. Still, Awlaki’s killing comes as no surprise since the Obama administration long ago deemed him kill-worthy.

As The Wall Street Journal points out, the CIA tried to kill Awlaki recently: “The US narrowly missed Mr Awlaki in a failed assassination attempt back in May.

US drones fired on a vehicle in the southern Yemen province of Shebwa that the cleric had been driving in earlier the same day.”

Since then, the US has vastly expanded its Predator and Reaper drone capability beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan, setting up bases on Indian Ocean islands and targeting Yemen, Somalia and other countries.

The killings were first announced by the Yemen defence ministry and its military – ironic in that the entire country of Yemen is perched on the brink of a civil war in which its establishment, including its military command, has divided loyalties.

Not only Awlaki, but another American citizen was killed in the US-orchestrated attack: “Yemen’s defence ministry said another American militant was killed in the same strike alongside al-Awlaki – Samir Khan, a US citizen of Pakistani heritage who produced Inspire, an English-language al-Qaeda Web magazine that spread the word on ways to carry out attacks inside the US.”

Awlaki was born in New Mexico, and he was linked to the Fort Hood shootings at a military base in Texas and to the attempted Times Square bombing, though his exact role in those and other cases is unclear – that is, whether he masterminded or organised them, or simply served as a kind of spiritual mentor to people who were planning acts of violence anyway.

The point is, no judicial case has been made against Awlaki. He hasn’t been formally accused for those events or others. The charges against him have never been proved in court. He was deemed guilty by the CIA and the US national security apparatus, and the sentence of death was carried out.

Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, a senior US official said: “His death takes a committed terrorist, intent on attacking the US, off the battlefield. Awlaki and AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) are also responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Yemen and throughout the region, which have killed scores of Muslims.”

Of course, whether Awlaki and AQAP have killed scores of Muslims or not isn’t the point. Unless the Obama administration truly wants to arrogate to itself the role of world policeman, it shouldn’t be in the business of executing, extrajudicially, anyone it wants to, whether they’re guilty of killing Muslims, Hindus, Jews, or Christians. – The Nation, distributed by Agence Global

Dreyfuss is a contributing editor for The Nation magazine and is an investigative journalist. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, and is a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone, The American Prospect and Mother Jones.

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