Friday, September 30, 2011

Obama gets it right on Awlaki

Everyone who reads this blog (or the old blog, for that matter) knows I have been very, very hard on Obama for his foreign policy.  But I like to think that I am non-partisan and even-handed in that I will actually give credit when Obama gets it right.  And in using drones to perform addition by subtraction on American-born Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Anwar al-Awlaki and his American henchman Samir Khan in Yemen, he got it right.

As Michelle Malkin explains:
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.
Malkin goes on to detail the crimes committed by Awlaki and Khan.  Rusty at the Jawa Report, who was personally threatened by Khan, also has more.  I suggest checking them out.

We are getting the usuall gnashing of gums from Ron Paul, the ACLU, et al, about the US government killing US citizens.  Even AllahPundit seems torn:
If we’re going to kill one of our own without independent review of the evidence that he is in fact fighting or commanding fighters on the other side, then we’re handing the president broaaaad power to kill Americans abroad. As Danger Room says, “[S]houldn’t Awlaki’s American citizenship count for something? If nothing else, doesn’t it oblige the government to at least disclose why it asserts it can kill an American citizen?” The irony is, I doubt the feds would have trouble convincing a judge that Awlaki’s as big a threat as they suspect: Although some experts claim his role in AQ was vastly overstated, his terror ties go all the way back to 9/11. Read Tom Joscelyn’s account of Awlaki’s relationship with three of the hijackers, then read this IntelWire summary of how he spent the past 10 years, assuming more of an operational role in the last few. (And no, contrary to what some on the left might tell you, Awlaki’s journey to jihad wasn’t a reaction to Afghanistan and Iraq. It began before that.) According to one senior U.S. official, he even took an interest in using chemical weapons against Americans. Why can’t we have a mechanism in which a judge either (a) reviews the evidence and signs off on the decision to target a suspect who’s a citizen, a la a probable cause warrant, or (b) adjudicates that the target has constructively expatriated himself by swearing allegiance to an enemy and taking up arms? The most hawkish hawks will hate that idea because it slightly limits the president’s war-making power and introduces a law-enforcement element into the war on terror, but there are worse precedents than involving judges in rare terrorism cases. Like, for instance, letting the president fire drones at anyone he wants, citizen or not, if they happen to be beyond easy reach of U.S. infantrymen.
Andrew McCarthy and Kevin Williamson had a pretty decent debate over the issue awhile back, after it became known that the US was targeting Awlaki.  Richard Miniter has in my opinion the best take:
President Obama’s targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and died in Yemen fighting for al Qaeda, is a victory for America and for common sense.
For the first time since the days of Abraham Lincoln, an American president has ordered the killing of a U.S. citizen, far from any battlefield or courtroom.
And like Abraham Lincoln, Obama has saved the constitution and the country by defending it against a nihilistic and narrow reading of the constitution that would prevent the country from protecting itself.
This has shocked the American Civil Liberties Union, Ron Paul, legal scholars, and libertarians, who have long argued that the constitution’s Fifth Amendment, which says that no citizen shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” means that the constitution bars killing non-combatants without a trial. Since Awlaki had not been convicted in a proper court or hasn’t been killed while shooting at American soldiers, they contend, his killing is unconstitutional. A side argument, beloved by the ACLU, is that the method of deciding who goes on the CIA target list is secret and therefore an illegal violation of due process.
These are clever arguments, but wrong. Federal courts have rejected the ACLU’s view when it brought a case seeking to bar the listing of U.S. citizens on the CIA’s terrorist hit list. Awlaki’s own father made a similar argument in another court and it too was rejected.


[T]he president came to a surprisingly balanced legal decision. Awlaki was an “imminent threat” to the lives of Americans and our allies. Based on Awlaki’s links to two 9/11 hijackers, to the leadership of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (a branch of bin Laden’s outfit), and his key role in propagandizing non-Arabic speakers to join the jihad against America, there is no doubt that he posed a continuing and urgent threat. As evidence accumulated of Awlaki’s links to Major Nidal Hasan (the Fort Hood shooter) and Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, the so-called underpants bomber who planned to down a Detroit-bound jet on Christmas day, and the Times Square bomber, these developments only confirmed Obama’s view that Awlaki was a clear and present danger.
Next, the president concluded that Awlaki was a leader in an enemy organization that was actively attacking the United States. There is ample constitutional precedent for killing enemy leaders in war time, even if they are U.S. citizens, as Lincoln’s experience shows.
Finally, the president became convinced there was no plausible alternative. The government of Yemen was not going to arrest him. Awlaki’s father had been a minister in President Saleh’s government and was a friend of the ruling family. And Awlaki moved in a remote region that the central government insisted it had no control over. Sending in the SEALs was not a viable option either. Unlike bin Laden, Awlaki did not stay put in a concrete compound—which, in bin Laden’s case, allowed the SEALs to build scale models and practice their assaults. Instead, he moved constantly, meaning the special-forces team would be going into a location that they knew little about. And Awlaki’s protectors were numerous, hardened, and well-trained. Those two factors increased the odds of a deadly failure. Nor was there any reliable way to lure Awlaki to a place where he might easily be captured.
The president was left with two hard options: ignore Awlaki, or kill him in a way that minimizes civilian and American casualties.
Indeed.  And Obama chose the one that would better -- much better -- protect American interests.  That is his job as POTUS.  And in this case, he did it very well.

I've been trying to think of a historical precedent or analogy for this act, but unfortunately I cannot.  I've seen a number of historical and legal precedents listed, but none of them really works for me here.  So, let me set up the scenario.

Awlaki and Khan were both American citizens.  They moved to Yemen to take up war against the United States as members of Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in support of the ummah.   Khan's main activity was propaganda and recruitment.  Awlaki was, at the very least, involved in planning and conducting anti-US operations.  They themselves had specifically declared war on the United States.  This is uncontested.  As members of Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, they had declared war on non-Muslims in general and the United States in particular. 

As far as I understand the operation, US intelligence located Awlaki and Khan in a speeding car well away from any civilians.  They sent drones to intercept the car.  The car was destroyed with one Hellfire missile, any remaining survivors of the first hit were taken out with a second Hellfire.

No attempt was made to arrest them and return them to the US for trial.  I doubt that was even possible.

So, with no precedent, I'm going to create a scenario: Admiral Yamamoto.  Yamamoto Isoroku was the commander of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy.  In that role he was the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor and on Imperial Japan's expansion operations in the early Pacific War.  He was the intellectual and emotional leader of Japan's naval war effort, even though, ironically, he opposed the war and liked the United States.

US intelligence had broken the Japanese naval code and found out when Yamamoto was going to fly out to tour the front lines.  They planned and executed an operation -- Operation Vengeance -- to intercept and shoot down Yamamoto's plane.  Long-range P-38 fighters were sent out from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal to intercept Yamamoto's plane -- a "Betty" bomber modified to serve as a transport -- as it began its descent to land at Ballale, just off Bougainville Island in the Solomon Islands. 

The operation was successful.  Yamamoto's plane was shot down and crashed in the Bougainville jungle.  The admiral was killed.  Yamamoto's death heavily damaged morale in Nihon Kaigun and had the equivalent effect of a major military defeat.

Operation Vengeance generated some controversy among military theorists and lawyers but has genearlly been considered acceptable conduct in war. 

The two operations -- the Awlaki operation and Vengeance -- were similar, even if the media were different.

Now, the scenario: Everything else being equal, what if Yamamoto was an American citizen?

Would that have changed anything about Venegeance? Its morality? Its legality?

I don't believe so.  Which is why I am perfectly OK with the killing of Awlaki and Khan.

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