(By Deutsche Welle) After a two-year manhunt, the Obama administration ordered the targeted killing of Islamic extremist Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen. The case has ignited a debate over the reach of constitutional protections.
As part of its on-going global campaign to wipe out the leadership of the terrorist group al Qaeda, the United States has targeted and killed an American citizen via drone strike for the first time in the politically volatile Arab nation of Yemen.
The man targeted for death, Anwar al-Awlaki, was accused of both inciting and planning a series of attacks against the United States in recent years. As a Muslim cleric infamous for violent anti-American rhetoric, Awlaki allegedly inspired the Fort Hood massacre in 2009 as well as the failed attempt to detonate a truck bomb in New York’s Times Square in 2010. And he reportedly played a direct role in planning the aborted attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound passenger plane two Christmases ago.
A second American citizen, Samir Khan, was also killed in the drone strike. Khan, who grew up in Queens, New York and lived for a time in North Carolina, was the editor of al Qaeda’s English-language online magazine Inspire.
Although US President Barack Obama did not mention Awlaki’s citizenship during his public statement hailing last Friday’s drone strike as a victory, the president stated that the New Mexican native was the head of “external operations” for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), thereby making him a legitimate target for elimination.
“The death of Awlaki marks another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates,” President Obama said during a farewell ceremony for outgoing Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen.
But civil libertarians and constitutional experts have sharply criticized the Obama administration for denying Awlaki due process rights guaranteed to citizens under the 5th amendment of the United States’ Constitution.
“Absent that kind of a hearing it is unprecedented and illegal to simply assassinate a human being in that way, a US citizen,” Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told Deutsche Welle.