Although the FBI had investigated Awlaki's ties to the 9/11 terrorists, he was allowed to leave the U.S. for good in 2002 and head for Yemen where U.S. officials claim he began aiding al Qaeda, and had maintained e-mail contacts with Maj. Nidal Hassan, who he met at his Northern Virginia mosque, before Hassan went on his shooting spree at Ft. Hood, killing 13 American soldiers. Awlaki also supposedly played an operational role in the 2009 failed Christmas Eve bombing of a Northwest Airlines Flight from Amsterdam to Detroit through contacts with the so-called underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Awlaki was held in a Yemen prison for a time at the request of U.S. officials before he was later released. In 2011, President Obama gave the orders to kill Awlaki through the use of drones launched from an air base in Saudi Arabia.
One morning in late September 2011, a group of American drones took off from an airstrip the C.I.A. had built in the remote southern expanse of Saudi Arabia. The drones crossed the border into Yemen, and were soon hovering over a group of trucks clustered in a desert patch of Jawf Province, a region of the impoverished country once renowned for breeding Arabian horses.
A group of men who had just finished breakfast scrambled to get to their trucks. One was Anwar al-Awlaki, the firebrand preacher, born in New Mexico, who had evolved from a peddler of Internet hatred to a senior operative in Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen. Another was Samir Khan, another American citizen who had moved to Yemen from North Carolina and was the creative force behind Inspire, the militant group’s English-language Internet magazine.
Two of the Predator drones pointed lasers on the trucks to pinpoint the targets, while the larger Reapers took aim. The Reaper pilots, operating their planes from thousands of miles away, readied for the missile shots, and fired.
It was the culmination of years of painstaking intelligence work, intense deliberation by lawyers working for President Obama and turf fights between the Pentagon and the C.I.A., whose parallel drone wars converged on the killing grounds of Yemen. For what was apparently the first time since the Civil War, the United States government had carried out the deliberate killing of an American citizen as a wartime enemy and without a trial . . .
The missile strike on Sept. 30, 2011, that killed Mr. Awlaki — a terrorist leader whose death lawyers in the Obama administration believed to be justifiable — also killed Mr. Khan, though officials had judged he was not a significant enough threat to warrant being specifically targeted. The next month, another drone strike mistakenly killed Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, who had set off into the Yemeni desert in search of his father. Within just two weeks, the American government had killed three of its own citizens in Yemen. Only one had been killed on purpose.American officials can only defend the killing of Awlaki through guilt-by-association and circumstantial evidence--evidence it knows would never stand up in a court of law to find him guilty of a crime. Government lawyers justified Khan's killing as "collateral damage" during what they viewed as "legally defensible as a death incidental to the military aim" of killing Awlaki. There is no excuse for the killing of Awlaki's 16-year old son other than bad intelligence.
Then, on Oct. 14, a missile apparently intended for an Egyptian Qaeda operative, Ibrahim al-Banna, hit a modest outdoor eating place in Shabwa. The intelligence was bad: Mr. Banna was not there, and among about a dozen men killed was the young Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who had no connection to terrorism and would never have been deliberately targeted.
It was a tragic error and, for the Obama administration, a public relations disaster, further muddying the moral clarity of the previous strike on his father and fueling skepticism about American assertions of drones’ surgical precision. The damage was only compounded when anonymous officials at first gave the younger Mr. Awlaki’s age as 21, prompting his grieving family to make public his birth certificate.
He had been born in Denver, said the certificate from the Colorado health department. In the United States, at the time his government’s missile killed him, the teenager would have just reached driving age.As for the 11 other non-American men "accidentally" murdered by President Obama, the officials had nothing to say. President Obama had relied upon the legal analysis of two Justice Department attorneys to carry out the killings--David Barron and Martin Lederman--according to the Times. They concluded Awlaki was "a lawful target" because "the evidence available at the time" showed "he was participating in the war with Al Qaeda and also because he was a specific threat to the country." The strikes did not violate Yemen sovereignty because the CIA puppets who run the country authorized the drone attacks within its borders. That authority was suspended for a brief time in 2010 when the Pentagon accidentally killed a provencial governor in Yemen, but the government later gave its blessings to U.S. military officials to resume drone attacks within its borders.
According to the Times, Barron and Lederman had co-written a legal essay in the Harvard Law Review in 2008 critical of President Bush's view that wartime powers allowed him to exceed the authority granted by Congress limiting the use of torture and surveillance. Even President Obama had expressed disapproval of Bush's view of constitutional authority when he was a U.S. senator. The Times also says the two lawyers became uneasy about their own legal analysis after they realized they had overlooked a federal statute that prohibits Americans from killing other Americans overseas.
Now, Mr. Barron and Mr. Lederman were being asked whether President Obama’s counterterrorism team could take its own extraordinary step, notwithstanding potential obstacles like the overseas-murder statute. Enacted as part of a 1994 crime bill, it makes no exception on its face for national security threats. By contrast, the main statute banning murder in ordinary, domestic contexts is far more nuanced and covers only “unlawful” killings.
As they researched the rarely invoked overseas-murder statute, Mr. Barron and Mr. Lederman discovered a 1997 district court decision involving a woman who was charged with killing her child in Japan. A judge ruled that the terse overseas-killing law must be interpreted as incorporating the exceptions of its domestic-murder counterpart, writing, “Congress did not intend to criminalize justifiable or excusable killings.”
And by arguing that it is not unlawful “murder” when the government kills an enemy leader in war or national self-defense, Mr. Barron and Mr. Lederman concluded that the foreign-killing statute would not impede a strike. They had not resorted to the Bush-style theories they had once denounced of sweeping presidential war powers to disregard Congressionally imposed limitations.
Due to return to academia in the fall of 2010, the two lawyers finished their second Awlaki memorandum, whose reasoning was widely approved by other administration lawyers, that summer. It had ballooned to about 63 pages but remained narrowly tailored to Mr. Awlaki’s circumstances, blessing lethal force against him without addressing whether it would also be permissible to kill citizens, like low-ranking members of Al Qaeda, in other situations.The Times notes that the leaking of the report prepared by Barron and Lederman, along with other details of the drone killings of U.S. citizens, played a big part in efforts to derail the nomination of John Brennan, Obama's key counter-intelligence adviser, as CIA Director: "Some wondered aloud: If the president can order the assassination of Americans overseas, based on secret intelligence, what are the limits to his power?" Indiana's two U.S. senators, Dan Coats and Joe Donnelly, weren't among those concerned about the limits of the president's power to order the assassination of American citizens. Both voted to confirm Brennan as the nation's new CIA Director.
What the Times doesn't discuss is that the President's view of his authority to kill U.S. citizens extends to those on American soil as well according to Attorney General Eric Holder, perhaps the most corrupt man ever to serve as the nation's U.S. Attorney General. “It is possible I suppose to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” Holder said in response to a question posed by Sen. Rand Paul, which was the basis for his principled filibuster of Brennan's nomination.