tap al-Awlaki's phone, judicial review would have been required. But killing him was totally up to the president.
As the A.C.L.U.'s deputy legal director stated, "this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public, but from the courts."
To be sure, this was not a case like the for the first time; let us assume too that al-Awlaki was involved in operationally planning attacks in the United States — as government officials and the journalists to whom they've shown pieces of documents assert, though for which no evidence has been brought before a court, despite ample opportunity to do so. Granting these points, we still might ask how al-Awlaki became such a dangerous character.
There's much that is still unknown about his life and activities, but this account by New York Times' national security correspondent Scott Shane and co-author Souad Mekhennet from a year ago suggests the strong possibility that it was the excesses of "the war on terror" that led al-Awlaki to become a virulent proponent of violent jihad.
"As the American authorities rounded up Muslim men after 9/11, he had grown furious.
"After raids in March 2002 on Muslim institutions and community leaders in Virginia, Mr. Awlaki led a chorus of outrage, noting that some of the targets were widely viewed as moderates.
"'So this is not now a war on terrorism, we need to all be clear about this, this is a war on Muslims!' Mr. Awlaki declared, his voice shaking with anger. 'Not only is it happening worldwide, but it's happening right here in America that is claiming to be fighting this war for the sake of freedom.'"
In 2003, al-Awlaki was giving lectures in London urging his young followers never to believe a non-Muslim. In 2004, he moved to Yemen. Shane and Mekhennet explain what happened next:
"In mid-2006, after he intervened in a tribal dispute, Mr. Awlaki was imprisoned for 18 months by the Yemeni authorities. By his later account on his blog, he was in solitary confinement nearly the entire time and used it to study the Koran, to read literature (he enjoyed Dickens but disliked Shakespeare) and eventually, when it was permitted, to study Islamic scholarship.
"Notably, he was enraptured by the works of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian whose time in the United States helped make him the father of the modern anti-Western jihadist movement in Islam.
"'Because of the flowing style of Sayyid I would read between 100 and 150 pages a day,' Mr. Awlaki wrote. 'I would be so immersed with the author I would feel Sayyid was with me in my cell speaking to me directly.'
"Two F.B.I. agents questioned him in the Yemeni prison, and Mr. Awlaki blamed the United States for his prolonged incarceration. He was right; John D. Negroponte, then the director of national intelligence, told Yemeni officials that the United States did not object to his detention, according to American and Yemeni sources.
"But by the end of 2007, American officials, some of whom were disturbed at the imprisonment without charges of a United States citizen, signaled that they no longer insisted on Mr. Awlaki's incarceration, and he was released.
"'He was different after that — harder,' said a Yemeni man who knows Mr. Awlaki well."
here.) One can only imagine the mental health consequences of nearly 18 months of solitary confinement.
The specific allegations that U.S. officials make about al-Awlaki — again, based on evidence never presented to a court — involve connections to the Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Malik Hasan; the failed "underwear" bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; the failed Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad; and the cargo planes bomb plot. For some of these, al-Awlaki's involvement may have been no more than providing inspiration, but in any event these were all after his 18-month imprisonment.
Obviously one is entitled to protect innocent civilians from unjustified attacks coming even from someone who has been provoked into a murderous rage, but one has to wonder about the sort of protection being provided by the "war on terror." Given the number of people who have been tortured or imprisoned without charge, it seems likely that the "war on terror" is creating terrorist leaders faster than they are being killed.
And these policies are not just those of the former Bush administration. The ACLU recently reported that
"Torture and extraordinary rendition are no longer officially condoned. But most other policies — indefinite detention, targeted killing, trial by military commissions, warrantless surveillance, and racial profiling — remain core elements of our national security strategy today."
torture still seems to be contracted out.
And then we're surprised that there's still terrorism.
Stephen R. Shalom teaches political science at William Paterson University. He is on the editorial board of New Politics.