- The Washington Times - Friday, September 30, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The reported killing of senior al Qaeda terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki in an airstrike in Yemen is a significant event in the war on terrorism. His story, however, raises some questions that the Obama administration would prefer not to address.

Al-Awlaki wasn’t always an enemy of the state. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the New York Times said the New Mexico-born cleric was being “held up as a new generation of Muslim leader capable of merging East and West.” At the time, he was the Muslim chaplain at George Washington University and imam at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va. The charismatic and media-savvy cleric was sought out for his views on terrorism. In The Washington Post in November 2001, he criticized the “one-sided” coverage of the war and said, “as an American, I do have the right to have a contrary opinion.” He told National Geographic he worried that, “because of this conflict, the views of Osama bin Laden will become appealing to some of the population of the Muslim world.” In 2002, he conducted a prayer service in the U.S. Capitol for the Congressional Muslim Staffer Association.

All the while, al-Awlaki was under concerted investigation by the FBI for links to terrorism. Two of the Sept. 11 hijackers were his parishioners, for example. With the net closing around him, this model “moderate” imam left the United States for Britain and then his ancestral homeland of Yemen. There he began openly to preach jihad against America and to inspire, plan or direct a series of terrorist attacks, including the Fort Hood massacre, the Christmas 2009 “underwear bombing,” the attempted Times Square bombing in May 2010, and the bomb plot against cargo planes headed for Chicago in October 2010. Americans have reason to celebrate his passing.

The way in which he was killed raises important questions. The Obama administration has steadfastly argued that expanded drone strikes against terrorist targets are legal. The White House cites the laws of war, the doctrine of self-defense and executive emergency powers to justify this claim. But none of these arguments are convincing. The laws of war don’t apply to covert CIA paramilitary operations. Self-defense is a slim reed to support the drone program since it traditionally has been applied only to cases of imminent danger and then only to those posing a direct threat. And claims of emergency powers are at variance with the administration’s downgrading of the war on terrorism to merely a “struggle against violent extremism.” That al-Awlaki was U.S.-born presents another wrinkle. The White House has yet to explain how the extra-judicial killing of an American citizen is not a violation of the constitutional right of due process.

Al-Awlaki’s killing raises the inconvenient question why Mr. Obama considers the enhanced interrogation techniques used against terrorist detainees during the George W. Bush administration illegal acts of torture, while raining death from the skies on terrorists and anyone who happens to be around them is legal, moral and commendable. The question probably matters most to the Democrats’ anti-war base, though most peaceniks are silent on the matter. A federal court dodged a suit brought by al-Awlaki’s father last year, citing technicalities. Now the case is moot.

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