Spencer Ackerman reports:
An American citizen responsible for taking al-Qaida’s message viral has been killed in Yemen, according to the Yemeni government. As a target, the Obama administration considered him second only to Osama bin Laden. But don’t expect al-Qaida’s surging Yemeni cell to grow much weaker as a result.
Anwar al-Awlaki, a New Mexico-born extremist, was reportedly killed while traveling in southern Yemen, his base of operations for years. The Yemeni government made the announcement of Awlaki’s death on Friday, but left out the circumstances — notably, who killed Awlaki.
Agence France Presse reports that “tribal sources” said Awlaki was killed “in air strike that hit two vehicles in Marib province.” If true, that means the U.S. killed Awlaki. Not only does Yemen lack the capability for a precision air strike, but joint CIA and U.S. Special Operations Forces teams have stepped up both intelligence and strike operations in the past year, including armed drone flights. Indeed, Rep. Peter King, the chairman of the House homeland-security committee, jumped the gun by praising President Obama and U.S. intelligence for Awlaki’s death.
It would also mean that the Obama administration assassinated an American citizen without due process of law. Ever since evidence emerged in late 2009 that Awlaki communicated with both Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and would-be Christmas bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the U.S. has launched numerous air strikes in the hope of killing him. A bevy of U.S. counterterrorism officials have testified that Awlaki plays an “operational” role in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. None have offered any evidence for that conclusion.
In 2008 Obama was able to inspire a grassroots campaign, mobilizing young people across America with the bland and non-committal slogan: “Change We Can Believe In.” Now we have an even less meaningful “Obama for America” in 2012. Maybe it should be: “Obama — the lean, mean, killing machine,” or “Obama: on target for 2012.”
There’s no way he can get re-elected on the strength of the economy, so maybe it will come down to this: being able to kill the right people at the right time.
David Axelrod is probably gathering reports right now on whether Obama’s latest assassination is really going to be a vote winner. There might not be the same expression of jubilation that accompanied Osama bin Laden’s killing, so maybe this will have to be decided by focus groups.
“This is a great day for America,” a senior administration official says. That’s what they think in the White House. And then there are those of us left to wonder whether by the end of his first term, we’ll end up sick and bemused, having concluded: Obama turned out to be worse than Bush.
Glenn Greenwald writes:
It was first reported in January of last year that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of American citizens whom the President had ordered assassinated without any due process, and one of those Americans was Anwar al-Awlaki. No effort was made to indict him for any crimes (despite a report last October that the Obama administration was “considering” indicting him). Despite substantial doubt among Yemen experts about whether he even has any operational role in Al Qaeda, no evidence (as opposed to unverified government accusations) was presented of his guilt. When Awlaki’s father sought a court order barring Obama from killing his son, the DOJ argued, among other things, that such decisions were “state secrets” and thus beyond the scrutiny of the courts. He was simply ordered killed by the President: his judge, jury and executioner. When Awlaki’s inclusion on President Obama’s hit list was confirmed, The New York Times noted that “it is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.”
After several unsuccessful efforts to assassinate its own citizen, the U.S. succeeded today (and it was the U.S.). It almost certainly was able to find and kill Awlaki with the help of its long-time close friend President Saleh, who took a little time off from murdering his own citizens to help the U.S. murder its. The U.S. thus transformed someone who was, at best, a marginal figure into a martyr, and again showed its true face to the world. The government and media search for The Next bin Laden has undoubtedly already commenced.