For the first time in history, an American president has officially ordered the assassination of a US citizen.
President Barack Obama has approved the "targeted killing" of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born Muslim cleric who is reported to be in hiding in Yemen. No substantial evidence has been brought to bear against Awlaki, 38, who is accused of terrorism, and he will be afforded no legal recourse against the death sentence.
Word of Obama's decision has been intentionally leaked by multiple intelligence officials to various media sources. Reuters and the Wall Street Journal published news articles on the story on Tuesday, and these were confirmed by stories in the Washington Post and New York Times on Wednesday.
The killing of citizens declared by the executive branch to be "terrorists" was first announced as state policy by Obama's director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, in February congressional hearings. "We take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence community," Blair said. "If we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that."
Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, has been linked by e-mail communication to Nidal Malik Hasan, the army psychologist who gunned down 13 soldiers in a November rampage at Ford Hood, Texas. No evidence has been presented, however, to suggest that Awlaki in any way planned or ordered the attack.
There have also been allegations, so far entirely unsubstantiated, linking Awlaki to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian youth who attempted to blow up an airplane as it approached Detroit on December 25, 2009. The failed attack was, in fact, made possible by the stand-down of the US intelligence apparatus--or its direct complicity.
Awlaki's family have defended him. "I am now afraid of what they will do with my son, he's not Osama Bin Laden, they want to make something out of him that he's not," said his father, Dr. Nasser al-Awlaki, a US-trained scientist, in a January interview with CNN. "How can the American government kill one of their own citizens? This is a legal issue that needs to be answered."
The public justification for killing Awlaki is based on bald assertions and hearsay from intelligence sources who refuse to even identify themselves. Typical is the following account from the New York Times: "American counterterrorism officials say Mr. Awlaki is an operative of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula " They say they believe that he has become a recruiter for the terrorist network, feeding prospects into plots aimed at the United States and at Americans abroad, the officials said."
The decision to kill Awlaki takes Washington's lawlessness to a new level. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) drone assassination program has killed between 400 and 500 "militants," the vast majority in countries with which the US is not officially at war. The Bush and Obama administrations have declared the right to attack or invade countries Washington deems to be threats to US interests, and have institutionalized a worldwide regime of kidnappings and indefinite imprisonment without trial in the so-called "war on terror."