Last summer, I saw Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars and wrote the following short review praising the movie for raising “serious questions about how we conduct and oversee wars.” I added that a big part of the movie is the use of drones to kill Anwar al-Awlaki and stated that
The movie paints a simplistic picture that al-Awlaki was killed for disagreeing with the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (i.e., mere dissent and not anything more), . . . I would have rated it higher but for that.
The movie is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, giving Scahill and his film a bigger platform – but unfortunately to present his grossly-oversimplified view of this matter. Whether or even how a U.S. administration may decide to kill one of its citizens who is him nor herself at war with the nation are important items to debate, but Scahill hinders that debate through his overly simplistic formulation. Scahill simply glosses over the fact that al-Awlaki had a high-level operational role within al-Qaeda and was involved in activities that did or had the potential to kill thousands of innocent lives.
Since the movie’s release, a prominent character in the film – Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) – who raises question about the propriety of killing American citizens abroad and the secrecy surrounding the operations, has since announced his conclusion that the killing of al-Awlaki was justified along with Senators Heinrich (D-NM) and Udall (D-C0).
Having carefully reviewed the matter, we believe that the decision to use lethal force against Anwar al-Aulaqi was a legitimate use of the authority granted to the President. As the President noted in his May 2013 speech at the National Defense University, Mr. al-Aulaqi clearly made a conscious decision to join an organized fighting force that was (and is) engaged in planning and carrying out attacks against the United States, including the 2009 Christmas Day bombing and the 2010 cargo plane plot. By taking on a leadership role in this organization, involving himself in ongoing operational planning against the United States, and demonstrating the capacity and intent to carry out these operations, he made himself a legitimate target for military action. Additionally, while the US government did not publicly acknowledge that it was attempting to kill Mr. al-Aulaqi, this fact was nonetheless widely reported in US and international media. This disclosure served as the equivalent of a wanted poster, and if Mr. al-Aulaqi had been a wrongly targeted innocent man he could have turned himself in and cleared his name. Additionally, alternative reasonable means to apprehend Mr. al-Aulaqi or otherwise deal with the threat that he posed do not appear to have been available. Finally, based on what we have been told, lethal force appears to have been used against Mr. al-Aulaqi in a manner consistent with applicable international law. (emphasis added).
The Real al-Awlaki
Answar al-Awalki was born in New Mexico but also had Yemeni citizenship. Wikipedia describes al-Awlaki as follows:
Anwar al-Awlaki (also spelled al-Aulaqi, al-Awlaqi; Arabic: أنور العولقي Anwar al-‘Awlaqī; April 21, 1971 – September 30, 2011) was an American and Yemeni imam and Islamic militant. U.S. government officials said that he was a senior talent recruiter and motivator who was involved in planning terrorist operations for the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda. With a blog, a Facebook page, the al-Qaeda magazineInspire, and many YouTube videos, the Saudi news station Al Arabiya described him as the “bin Laden of the Internet. . . . U.S. officials said that in 2009, al-Awlaki was promoted to the rank of “regional commander” within al-Qaeda.[ He repeatedly called for jihad against the United States
The Sheik is tied to some of the following actual and disrupted terrorist attacks:
The Sheik had contact with three of the 9-11 hijackers while they were in the United States. From Wikipedia:
One detective later told the 9/11 Commission he believed al-Awlaki “was at the center of the 9/11 story”. And an FBI agent said,”if anyone had knowledge of the plot, it would have been” him, since “someone had to be in the U.S. and keep the hijackers spiritually focused”. One 9/11 Commission staff member said: “Do I think he played a role in helping the hijackers here, knowing they were up to something? Yes. Do I think he was sent here for that purpose? I have no evidence for it.” A separate Congressional Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks suggested that al-Awlaki may have been part of a support network for the hijackers, according to its director, Eleanor Hilll. There are some disputed reports that he may have bought airline tickets for some of the 9-11 terrorists..
The Sheik on multiple occasions called for jihad against the United States.
To the Muslims in America, I have this to say: How can your conscience allow you to live in peaceful coexistence with a nation that is responsible for the tyranny and crimes committed against your own brothers and sisters? I eventually came to the conclusion that jihad(holy struggle) against America is binding upon myself just as it is binding upon every other able Muslim.
In “44 Ways to Support Jihad”, another sermon posted on his blog in February 2009, al-Awlaki encouraged others to “fight jihad”, and explained how to give money to the mujahideen or their families after they’ve died. Al-Awlaki’s sermon also encouraged others to conduct weapons training, and raise children “on the love of Jihad”. Also that month, he wrote: “I pray that Allah destroys America and all its allies.” He wrote as well: “We will implement the rule of Allah on Earth by the tip of the sword, whether the masses like it or not.” On July 14, he criticized armies of Muslim countries that assist the U.S. military, saying, “the blame should be placed on the soldier who is willing to follow orders … who sells his religion for a few dollars.” In a sermon on his blog on July 15, 2009, entitled “Fighting Against Government Armies in the Muslim World”, al-Awlaki wrote, “Blessed are those who fight against [American soldiers], and blessed are those shuhada [martyrs] who are killed by them.”
The Sheik and Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan corresponded via email. From Wikipedia:
In one of the e-mails, Hasan wrote al-Awlaki: “I can’t wait to join you [in the afterlife]”. “It sounds like code words,” said Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a military analyst at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. “That he’s actually either offering himself up, or that he’s already crossed that line in his own mind.” Hasan also asked al-Awlaki when jihad is appropriate, and whether it is permissible if innocents are killed in a suicide attack In the months before the attacks, Hasan increased his contacts with al-Awlaki to discuss how to transfer funds abroad without coming to the attention of law authorities.
After the attack, the Sheik stated:
Nidal Hassan is a hero…. The U.S. is leading the war against terrorism, which in reality is a war against Islam….. Nidal opened fire on soldiers who were on their way to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. How can there be any dispute about the virtue of what he has done? In fact the only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the U.S. army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal. The fact that fighting against the U.S. army is an Islamic duty today cannot be disputed. No scholar with a grain of Islamic knowledge can defy the clear cut proofs that Muslims today have the right—rather the duty—to fight against American tyranny. Nidal has killed soldiers who were about to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in order to kill Muslims. The American Muslims who condemned his actions have committed treason against the Muslim Ummah and have fallen into hypocrisy…. May Allah grant our brother Nidal patience, perseverance, and steadfastness, and we ask Allah to accept from him his great heroic act. Ameen.
The Sheik was in contact with and had a direct operational role with the infamous Underwear Bomber who unsuccessfully sought to detonate a bomb on approach to Detroit’s airport. Had he been successful, he likely would have killed all 290 passengers which would have been the deadliest aviation occurrence on U.S soil other than 9-11.
In his March 2010 tape, al-Awlaki also said: To the American people … nine years after 9/11, nine years of spending, and nine years of beefing up security you are still unsafe even in the holiest and most sacred of days to you, Christmas Day…. Our brother Umar Farouk has succeeded in breaking through the security systems that have cost the U.S. government alone over 40 billion dollars since 9/11.
The Sheik is also tied to bombs found on two cargo planes destined for Chicago, which most likely would have detonated over the eastern seaboard and had a devastating effect on international air shipping.
The Sheik was tied to several other attempted terrorist attacks, including the attempted sTimes Square Bombing.
The Sheik also issued a Fatwā against cartoonists who participated in the Draw Mohammed Day, forcing Molly Norris at Seattle Weekly to stop publishing, and at the suggestion of the FBI change her name, move, and go into hiding due to a Fatwā calling for her death issued by al-Awlaki, after Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. Al-Awlaki cursed her and eight other cartoonists, authors, and journalists who are Swedish, Dutch, and British citizens for “blasphemous caricatures” of theProphet Muhammad, in the June 2010 issue of an English-language al-Qaeda magazine that calls itself Inspire, writing “The medicine prescribed by the Messenger of Allah is the execution of those involved”