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09 Jul

Obama’s Administration – This Is Justice?

 

Obama’s Administration Killed a 16-Year-Old American and Didn’t Say Anything  About It. This Is Justice?

By Tom  Junodat 7:47AM, 7/9/12

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE ACLU

Submitted by Michael

Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was 16 on the day he  was killed. “I tried every legal means to stop the targeted killing of my son,”  says his grandfather Nasser al-Awlaki, the father of Anwar al-Awlaki. ”But Eric  Holder and Barack Obama are giving us a new definition of the due process of the  law. How can they kill him without due process?”

In the August issue, Tom Junod examines an entirely new application of  power on the part of the president — the targeted killing of individuals  deemed to be threats to the country. So far, thousands have been killed, most  prominent among them Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki. The decisions to  target are made and the lethal missions are carried out without any public  accountability, even when those targeted are Americans and even when, on one  occasion, one of those Americans was a teenager. Over the course of this week,  Junod considers five of the larger implications of his story on The Politics  Blog. —Eds.

He was just a boy.

Let’s start there. He was an American boy, born in America. Though he’d lived  in Yemen since he was about seven, he was still an American citizen, which  should have made it harder for the United States to kill him.

It didn’t.

It should at the very least have made it necessary for the United States to  say why it killed him.

It didn’t.

His name was Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and he was 16 years old when he died — when he was killed by a drone strike in Yemen, by the light of the moon. He was  the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, who was also born in America, who was also an  American citizen, and who was killed by drone two weeks before his son was,  along with another American citizen named Samir Khan. Of course, both Anwar  al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were, at the very least, traitors to their country — they had both gone to Yemen and taken up with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,  and al-Awlaki had proven himself an expert inciter of those with murderous  designs against America and Americans: the rare man of words who could be said  to have a body count. When he was killed, on September 30, 2011, President Obama made a  speech about it; a few months later, when the Obama administraton’s  public-relations campaign about its embrace of what has come to be called “targeted killing” reached its climax in a front-page story in the New York Times that  presented the President of the United States as the last word in deciding who  lives and who dies, he was quoted as saying that the decision to put Anwar  al-Awlaki on the kill list — and then to kill him — was “an easy one.”

But Abdulrahman al-Awlaki wasn’t on an American kill list. Nor was he a  member of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninusla. Nor was he “an inspiration,” as his  father styled himself, for those determined to draw American blood; nor had he  gone “operational,” as American authorities said his father had, in drawing up  plots against Americans and American interests.

He was a boy who hadn’t seen his father in two years, since his father had  gone into hiding. He was a boy who knew his father was on an American kill list  and who snuck out of his family’s home in the early morning hours of September  4, 2011, to try to find him. He was a boy who was still searching for his father  when his father was killed, and who, on the night he himself was killed, was  saying goodbye to the second cousin with whom he’d lived while on his search,  and the friends he’d made. He was a boy among boys, then; a boy among boys  eating dinner by an open fire along the side of a road when an American drone  came out of the sky and fired the missiles that killed them all.

Now, there will be some who read what I just wrote and say that the  death of the son of an avowed enemy of America — the death of another al-Awlaki — is more an inevitability than a tragedy, and perhaps even a boon: a case of a  son reaping what his father sowed. There will be some who will shrug and say  that we’re at war with Al Qaeda and bad things happen in wars, and there will be  some who will believe Nasser al-Awlaki — father of Anwar and grandfather of  Abdulrahman — when he says that “We can prove that Abdulrahman was not  collateral damage at all, that he was intended to be killed.”

In fact, what is most striking about the death of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki is  both the lack of outrage and the lack of information about it — or, to be more  exact, the lack of outrage over the lack of information. I spent the better part  of this past spring researching and writing a story for the August issue of  Esquire entitled “The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama,” which explores how  President Obama’s expansive embrace of the power to kill individuals identified  as America’s enemies has transformed not only his presidency but probably all  American presidencies to follow. I conducted over 40 interviews with over 35  people — including former administration officials who could speak with  authority about how targeting decisions are made — and tried to understand the  moral reasoning of an administration that speaks as though nothing could be  harder than killing individuals and behaves as though nothing could be easier,  and carries out what amounts to executions on a mass scale. In addition to  telling the story of the Lethal Presidency, I also wound up telling the story of  the killings of Anwar and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, because their deaths — the  strange common fates of a father and a son who were both American citizens but  died hundreds of kilometers away from one another in Yemen — managed to suggest  how a policy built on technological precision and moral discrimination winds up  blurring the lines between guilt and innocence and war and murder.

The Obama Administration has never formally acknowledged its role in either  death, but it has leaked a tremendous amount of information about its decision  to target Anwar al-Awlaki because its decision to target Anwar al-Awlaki has  evolved into something like “an Obama doctrine” when it comes to targeted  killing. The idea that American citizenship is no more a refuge against the  attacks of American drones than farflung geography; the idea that the secret  deliberations of the executive branch count as “due process” even when an  American citizen is being considered for execution without trial; the idea,  indeed, that “due process does not guarantee judicial process”: all these ideas  have entered the public sphere largely because the Obama administration made the  extraordinary decision to target and kill an American citizen named Anwar  al-Awlaki.

There has been no similar public discussion over the death of Abdulrahman  al-Awlaki because there was, until now, no hard information available about the  death of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. A 16-year-old American boy accused of no crimes  was killed in American drone attack, and the administration has neither  acknowledged his death or acknowledged that it killed him. It has, indeed, done  everything it possibly can to avoid saying how and why it killed him, and has  answered the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the ACLU with a blanket insistence that it is not  obligated to confirm or deny the existence of the CIA’s drone program, much less  disclose information about those the drone program has killed. (Current  administration officials declined multiple interview requests.)

And so while the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki conforms to the narrative  essential to the creation of the Lethal Presidency — the narrative of a guilty  man afforded unprecedented consideration by an administration wielding  technology of unprecedented precision — the killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki  constitutes a counter-narrative that the Lethal Presidency would do anything to  avoid: an innocent killed by an administration that has turned its argument that  it hardly ever makes mistakes into an appeal for the right make its mistakes in  secret, with no public accountability at all, even when one of its mistakes  results in the death of an American citizen.

As I’ve researched and explored the implications of the Lethal  Presidency, I’ve talked to people who’ve asked what might be the alternative to  it — and who have decided that entrusting the president with the power of life  and death is the only way to keep Americans safe. Perhaps it is. But I’ll be  posting right  here about “The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama” all week, and I’d like to  end this post with a modest proposal.

Barack Obama has created the Lethal Presidency by insisting he that he has  been given the power to kill, in secret, anyone who is plotting against  Americans or American interests, even if he or she is an American citizen.

It will be very difficult to constrain that power, no matter who is  president. But if the Lethal Presidency is going to have any accountability at  all, we should demand that Congress pass a law stating that if the  administration kills an American citizen, it should not be able to keep all the  particulars secret. The administration should be compelled to say who it killed  and why. It should be compelled to say why it killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and  the obvious fact that it will never do so — and that such a modest law as the  one I’m proposing will never be passed — shows how entrenched the Lethal  Presidency has become, and how lethal it really is.

FURTHER READING: Tom Junod Examines  the Lethal Presidency — and the  Full Story

FOR DISCUSSION (IN THE COMMENTS): The President asks us to trust  him to us his lethal powers responsibly, even when for the most part we have no  idea who we are killing or why. We have been asked to put our faith in the  President, in the administration, and in the “robust oversight” of Congress. But  last fall, the administration killed a sixteen-year-old American boy, without  being held accountable. Was that a failure of the system or was that how the  system is supposed to work?

One Response to “Obama’s Administration – This Is Justice?”

  1. 1
    mary Says:

    I would urge everyone to read Junod’s piece in Esquire, The Lethal Presidency. It would not be enough for a President to say why he has killed an American citizen without a trial. Indeed, it is not enough for an American President to say why he has killed non-americans simply because they are male and in an area where a supposed terrorist is. None of this is justifiable. It is criminal. This is your President; are you going to vote for him???

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