Chalk one up for Obama
By David H. Landon
I find myself in the unusual position of writing this week’s column in support of the recent action by the Obama administration. In September, a U.S. drone fired a missile killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical Muslim cleric, living and hiding out in Yemen. Al-Awlaki is directly responsible for the deaths of a number of American soldiers, having radicalized and motivated the Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan. He was also responsible for radicalizing and planning the attack for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the unsuccessful “Christmas Day bomber.” Al-Awlaki’s name comes up repeatedly in at least a dozen terrorism plots in the U.S., UK and Canada. Had he been allowed to continue to spread his anti-western hatred and vitriol through his Facebook network and radical newsletter Inspire, more American lives would have been at risk. Fortunately, most of his attacks were stopped before they could be carried out. I say to President Obama, well done.
There is concern, as usual, on the part of The New York Times and many on the left as to whether or not we may have violated al-Awlaki’s constitutional rights. As it turns out, al-Awlaki was a U.S. citizen by birthright. He was born in 1971 in this country when his Yemeni father and mother lived in New Mexico where his father was attending college. He lived in the U.S. until, at age seven, he returned to Yemen to begin his schooling. Later, in 1991 he would return to the U.S. to attend and graduate from college. He received a $20,000 grant from the U.S. because he filed on his paperwork that he was a foreign student from Yemen. Although his U.S. birth bestowed upon al-Awlaki the rights of a U.S. citizen, the Obama administration justified his killing (as opposed to having to capture and try him with full due process under U.S. law) based upon a memo. This memo prepared by the administration examined the legality of killing al-Awlaki despite the fact of his U.S. citizenship. The memo provided the justification for acting despite an executive order banning assassinations.
There are some groups questioning whether or not lighting up al-Awlaki’s world with a drone-fired hellfire missile violated his constitutional rights. Ironically, even al-Qaida has declared with great concern that the successful targeting of al-Awlaki may have violated U.S. law. You remember al-Qaida … those law-abiding folks who brought us 9/11. Those raising the alarm state that the targeting of a U.S. citizen to be executed by a fiat of a president without a criminal indictment or a trial sets a dangerous precedent. They argue that it sends us down a slippery slope to a dark day where constitutional due process is no longer a right. Even if we assume that al-Awlaki is still a U.S. citizen, there is a fatal flaw in that reasoning.
Here is the basic premise that justifies the action by President Obama. Anwar al-Awlaki was not a criminal defendant, nor was he a criminal suspect. By his own words and actions, he was an enemy combatant. And he was operating from Yemen as an integral part of the global jihad and was directing part of their war against America and the West.
The simple fact is that al-Awlaki was at war with our country. It’s absurd to suggest that we couldn’t be at war with him because of a fluke that he happened to be born in New Mexico. He even pretended to be born in Yemen upon his return to the U.S. All of his school records indicated that he considered himself a Yemeni student. But it really doesn’t matter where he was born.
Al-Awlaki left the U.S. suddenly in 2002, just ahead of an FBI investigation concerning a range of topics including his involvement in 9/11. In his last years in America he had become the imam of a Washington-area mosque. His sermons were attended by two of the 9/11 hijackers and the Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan. When investigating the 9/11 attacks, police raided the Hamburg, Germany, apartment of Ramzi bin al-Shibh (the “20th hijacker”), where they found al-Awlaki’s telephone number among bin al-Shibh’s personal papers. His name has been linked to countless terrorism attacks in the last 10 years. He was playing a significant role in the endangerment of the lives of U.S. citizens.
In March 2010, al-Awlaki released a tape in which he urged Muslims residing in the U.S. to attack their country of residence In July 2010, the FBI warned a Seattle cartoonist that al-Awlaki using the al-Qaida magazine Inspire, had issued a death threat. In similar fashion, eight other cartoonists, journalists and writers from Britain, Sweden and Holland were also threatened with death by al-Awlaki. He believed that it was his life mission to be at war with the West.
The president under the authority of the war powers of the U.S. Constitution had the authority to act and he did so. At the time that the Framers were debating the powers of the executive, they carefully rejected limitations on the war powers of the president. That’s because of the radical notion that a nation’s first obligation to its citizens is to provide for their security against foreign dangers. They recognized that it was a violent world in 1789, and obviously it is still violent today. I, for one, want to thank you Mr. President, for making the right call on this one.
David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at