Sunday, November 13, 2011
David Cole (Georgetown) revisits the government's targeted killing of Anwar al Awlaki in a piece titled Killing Our Citizens in the New York Review of Books. Cole reopens and criticizes the killing, which faded from the mainstream news cycle within about a week of al Awalaki's death. We covered it most recently here.
Cole takes on the idea that al Awlaki posed an imminent threat:
But al-Awlaki was not on the battlefield. He was in Yemen. And he was not even alleged to be a part of al-Qaeda or the Taliban, the two entities against whom Congress authorized the president to use military force in a resolution passed one week after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. That resolution continues to provide the legal justification for the war on al-Qaeda and the conflict in Afghanistan, but it is limited to those who attacked the US on September 11 and those who harbor them. Al-Awlaki was not alleged to be part of either group, but instead a leader of AQAP, an organization in Yemen founded in 2009, long after the September 11 attacks. He has never been tried, much less convicted, for any terrorist crime.
And more: al-Awlaki's case against the government, seeking to stop the government from killing his son, was dismissed based on lack of standing and the political question doctrine.
The part of this episode that ought to worry us most is the secrecy. We know almost nothing about the legal justification for the killing, or the process through which the White House designated al Awlaki for targeted killing. As Cole writes:
Secret memos, with or without leaked accounts to The New York Times, are no substitute for legal or democratic process. As long as the Obama administration insists on the power to kill the people it was elected to represent--and to do so in secret, on the basis of secret legal memos--can we really claim that we live in a democracy ruled by law?