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Dead again? New reports of jihadi cleric Awlaki’s demise; God bless our military

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By Michelle Malkin  •  September 30, 2011 10:06 AM

Let’s hope it really happened this time.

In December 2009, Reuters reported that al Qaeda recruiter and Fort Hood jihadist spiritual advisor Anwar al Awlaki was killed in an airstrike in Yemen.

He counseled the 9/11 jihadists, hailed Fort Hood gunman Nidal Hasan as a “hero,” reportedly inspired both the Christmas day would-be underwear bomber and another cargo plane jihadi plot, and has been on the lam since 2002.

The 2009 report turned out to be false.

Today, the New York Times reports again that Awlaki has been killed…in an airstrike in Yemen.

A missile fired from an American drone aircraft in Yemen on Friday killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric who was a leading figure in Al Qaeda’s affiliate there, according to an official in Washington.

Many of the details of the strike were unclear, but the official said that the drone fired a Hellfire missile and killed Mr. Awlaki, whom the United States had been hunting in Yemen for more than two years.

Yemen’s Defense Ministry confirmed Mr. Awlaki’s death, and both Yemeni and American officials hailed the strike as a significant success in the campaign to weaken Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group American officials believe to be the most dangerous Qaeda affiliate.

Military.com is carrying an AP piece reporting the same:

Al-Awlaki would be the most prominent al-Qaida figure to be killed since Osama bin Laden’s death in a U.S. raid in Pakistan in May. In July, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Yemeni-American was a priority target alongside Ayman al-Zawahri, bin Laden’s successor as the terror network’s leader.

The 40-year-old al-Awlaki had been in the U.S. crosshairs since his killing was approved by President Obama in April 2010 — making him the first American placed on the CIA “kill or capture” list. At least twice, airstrikes were called in on locations in Yemen where al-Awlaki was suspected of being, but he wasn’t harmed.

Al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, was believed to be key in turning al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen into what American officials have called the most significant and immediate threat to the Untied States. The branch, led by a Yemeni militant named Nasser al-Wahishi, plotted several failed attacks on U.S. soil — the botched Christmas 2009 attempt to blow up an American airliner heading to Detroit and a foiled 2010 attempt to ship explosives by cargo plane to Chicago.

***

Obama’s far left flank will be unhappy if the mission to kill Awlaki, an American citizen, was successful. They will again decry such drone strikes against American citizens as unprecedented and lawless.

On this, I will come to Obama’s defense.

Awlaki’s membership and leadership in al Qaeda is undisputed.

We are at war.

The Supreme Court set the precedent for Obama’s and our military’s actions in 1942.

I’ve referred before to the Quirin precedent.

Reminder from April 2010 (NYT):

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said. A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush said he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president.

But the director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, told a House hearing in February that such a step was possible. “We take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence community,” he said. “If we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.” He did not name Mr. Awlaki as a target.

The step taken against Mr. Awlaki, which occurred earlier this year, is a vivid illustration of his rise to prominence in the constellation of terrorist leaders. But his popularity as a cleric, whose lectures on Islamic scripture have a large following among English-speaking Muslims, means any action against him could rebound against the United States in the larger ideological campaign against Al Qaeda.

The possibility that Mr. Awlaki might be added to the target list was reported by The Los Angeles Times in January, and Reuters reported on Tuesday that he was approved for capture or killing.

“The danger Awlaki poses to this country is no longer confined to words,” said an American official, who like other current and former officials interviewed for this article spoke of the classified counterterrorism measures on the condition of anonymity. “He’s gotten involved in plots.”

The official added: “The United States works, exactly as the American people expect, to overcome threats to their security, and this individual — through his own actions — has become one. Awlaki knows what he’s done, and he knows he won’t be met with handshakes and flowers. None of this should surprise anyone.”

As a general principle, international law permits the use of lethal force against individuals and groups that pose an imminent threat to a country, and officials said that was the standard used in adding names to the list of targets. In addition, Congress approved the use of military force against Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. People on the target list are considered to be military enemies of the United States and therefore not subject to the ban on political assassination first approved by President Gerald R. Ford.

Both the C.I.A. and the military maintain lists of terrorists linked to Al Qaeda and its affiliates who are approved for capture or killing, former officials said. But because Mr. Awlaki is an American, his inclusion on those lists had to be approved by the National Security Council, the officials said.

At a panel discussion in Washington on Tuesday, Representative Jane Harman, Democrat of California and chairwoman of a House subcommittee on homeland security, called Mr. Awlaki “probably the person, the terrorist, who would be terrorist No. 1 in terms of threat against us.”

Federal prosecutor and war on terror legal expert Andrew McCarthy defended the targeted assassination of Awlaki in April 2010 and illuminates how the Left/Democrats will be tied up in knots:

The only reason for calling attention to Obama’s targeting of Awlaki is its demonstration of the illogic of the Left’s position on treatment of the enemy. According to the report, a U.S. official told Reuters that “Awlaki is a proven threat,” and therefore someone who could properly be targeted for killing. But by leftist standards — including those urged by Attorney General Holder when he was in private practice filing briefs in support of American-born “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla — Awlaki is most certainly not a proven threat. He has not been convicted in a court of law.

So here is the Obama Left’s position. If an alien enemy combatant, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mass-murders 3000 Americans and is then captured outside the U.S. in wartime, we need to bring him to the United States and give him a civilian trial with all attendant due process rights. If an alien enemy combatant is sending emails from outside the U.S. to an al Qaeda cell inside the U.S., the commander-in-chief needs a judge’s permission (on a showing of probable cause) to intercept those communications. If an American citizen terrorist outside the United States — say, Awlaki in Yemen — is calling or emailing the United States (or anyplace else), the commander-in-chief needs a judge’s permission to intercept those communications. If we capture an alien enemy combatant conducting war operations against the U.S. overseas, we should give him Miranda warnings, a judicial right to challenge his detention as a war prisoner, and (quite likely) a civilian trial. But, if the commander-in-chief decides to short-circuit the whole menu of civil rights by killing an American citizen, that’s fine — no due process, no interference by a judge, no Miranda, no nothing. He is a proven threat because … the president says so.

That’s OK with me — I think the flaws in the equation are the various lawfare devices by which we now tie the commander-in-chief’s hands with legal processes. War is not supposed to be litigation. It’s not about rights for the enemy but rather victory for the American people. But why do I think the Left will suddenly be OK with (or, at least, muted in its criticism of) targeted assassination because the president’s name is now Obama rather than Bush?

Some were not, of course. Last fall, the ACLU filed a cockamamie lawsuit on behalf of Awlaki. It was thrown out by a judge in December and the ACLU and its prog comrades gave up appealing in February.

More McCarthy context and analysis:

We are a political society, not a legal one. The executive branch typically has vast legal authority, but its exercise of that authority is hemmed in — thank goodness — by politics. As I’ve noted before, if five guys sitting in a circle pass a single marijuana joint around, each hand-to-hand exchange is actually a felony violation, punishable (under federal law) by up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Yet, no prosecutor would ever bring such a case. He would be fired and the president who appointed him would sustain a lot of political damage. The lesson is clear: People see the sense in having a weighty penalty available for drug-distribution offenses but expect the executive branch to use it responsibly.

I think the same principle applies here. In Ex Parte Quirin, the 1942 German-saboteur case, one of the terrorists was an American citizen and he was here to conduct terrorist attacks — which the government knew at the time he was apprehended. But, even though war had been declared, the government didn’t assassinate him or his German confederates. They were captured and given a military trial before being executed. Another U.S. citizen, Jose Padilla, was sent by al-Qaeda after 9/11 (i.e., after Congress authorized military force) to conduct terrorist attacks. He wasn’t assassinated either; he was arrested in Chicago, held for a few years as an enemy combatant, and eventually convicted in a civilian trial (albeit for terrorist crimes unrelated to the post-9/11 plot).

The Obama administration is not, by authorizing Awlaki’s assassination, green-lighting his killing under all conceivable circumstances. The administration, I suspect, is just making sure that if he’s found congregating in a sanctuary with other terrorists, we can bomb the sanctuary — we don’t have to forfeit a worthy military operation just because one of the terrorists happens to be an American citizen. But if he’s found under other circumstances, where there is no demonstrable military value in killing him, he will be captured, held, interrogated (one hopes), and tried — either by a civilian or (I would hope) a military court.

This seems like common sense to me. The unfortunate thing is that the assassination authorization should never have been made public. Clearly, the administration leaked it to underscore the president’s willingness to fight al-Qaeda aggressively. All the leak has done, though, is cause unnecessary legal headaches. If the administration had handled this top-secret authorization appropriately, chances are: Awlaki would, at some point, have been either killed or captured; the attendant circumstances would have made it obvious why the option chosen (kill or capture) was chosen; and no one would ever have thought to ask whether Obama had authorized his assassination.

Shall we now look for mass Code Pink demonstrations and calls to prosecute Obama for war crimes like we saw under the Bush administration? Will progs start hounding Obama officials the way they still hound Bush lawyers such as John Yoo?

I leave you with this link to Awlaki’s timeline of jihad activities and two words if the reports of his death are true:

Good riddance.

***

Oh, and four more words: God bless our military.

(Refresh your memories on Awlaki’s jihadi rants inciting violence against our troops by Muslim infiltrators.)

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