The Washington Post reports: In the days before a CIA drone strike killed al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki last month, his 16-year-old son ran away from the family home in Yemen’s capital of Sanaa to try to find him, relatives say. When he, too, was killed in a U.S. airstrike Friday, the Awlaki family decided to speak out for the first time since the attacks.
“To kill a teenager is just unbelievable, really, and they claim that he is an al-Qaeda militant. It’s nonsense,” said Nasser al-Awlaki, a former Yemeni agriculture minister who was Anwar al-Awlaki’s father and the boy’s grandfather, speaking in a phone interview from Sanaa on Monday. “They want to justify his killing, that’s all.”
The teenager, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was born in Denver in 1995, and his 17-year-old Yemeni cousin were killed in a U.S. military strike that left nine people dead in southeastern Yemen.
The young Awlaki was the third American killed in Yemen in as many weeks. Samir Khan, an al-Qaeda propagandist from North Carolina, died alongside Anwar al-Awlaki.
Yemeni officials said the dead from the strike included Ibrahim al-Banna, the Egyptian media chief for al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, and also a brother of Fahd al-Quso, a senior al-Qaeda operative who was indicted in New York in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden.
The strike occurred near the town of Azzan, an Islamist stronghold. The Defense Ministry in Yemen described Banna as one of the “most dangerous operatives” in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, often referred to by the acronym AQAP.
U.S. officials said they were still assessing the results of the strike Monday evening to determine who was killed. The officials would not discuss the attack in any detail, including who the target was, but typically the CIA and the Pentagon focus on senior figures in al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen.
“We have seen press reports that AQAP senior official Ibrahim al-Banna was killed last Friday in Yemen and that several others, including the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, were with al-Banna at the time,” said Thomas F. Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council. “For over the past year, the Department of State has publicly urged U.S. citizens not to travel to Yemen and has encouraged those already in Yemen to leave because of the continuing threat of violence and the presence of terrorist organizations, including AQAP, throughout the country.”
A senior congressional official who is familiar with U.S. operations in Yemen and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive policy issues said, “If they knew a 16-year-old was there, I think that would be cause for them to say: ‘Gee, we ought not to hit this guy. That would be considered collateral damage.’ ”
The official said that the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command are expected to ensure that women and children are not killed in airstrikes in Pakistan and Yemen but that sometimes it might not be possible to distinguish a teenager from militants.
Amy Davidson writes: Here is a birth certificate, for a boy who was born in Denver, Colorado, on September 13, 1995. (Via the Washington Post.) He turned sixteen a month ago, and a few days ago he died, killed when one of his country’s drones hit him and a number of other people in Yemen. His name was Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. His father, Anwar al-Awlaki, who, as the birth certificate notes, was himself born in New Mexico, and was twenty-four years older than his son, was killed a couple of weeks ago, in a separate attack. The father was targeted for assassination. He was an American citizen, and there were no judicial proceedings against him, just, reportedly, a White House legal opinion that concluded that it would be fine to kill him anyway, because the Administration thought he was dangerous. Anwar al-Awlaki was a member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and wrote angry and ugly sermons for them. The Administration says that it had to kill him because he had become “operational,” but so far it has kept the evidence for that to itself.
Was the son targeted, too? The Yemeni government says that another person, a grown man, was the target in the attack that killed Abdulrahman. Maybe he was just in the wrong place, like the Yemeni seventeen-year-old who reportedly died, too. Abdulrahman’s family said that he had been at a barbecue, and told the Post that they were speaking to the paper to answer reports said that Abdulrahman was a fighter in his twenties. Looking at his birth certificate, one wonders what those assertions say either about the the quality of the government’s evidence—or the honesty of its claims—and about our own capacity for self-deception. Where does the Obama Administration see the limits of its right to kill an American citizen without a trial? (The last time I wrote about Awlaki, a reader commented that “Awlaki was a citizen in name only”; but that name is the name of the law, and is, when it comes down to it, all any of us have, unless we want to rely on how charming our government finds us.) And what are the protections for an American child?
You can, in many ways, blame Abdulrahman’s death on his father—for not staying in Colorado, for introducing his son to the wrong people, for being who he was. That would be a fair part of an assessment of Anwar al-Awlaki’s character. But it’s not sufficient. He may have put his child in a bad situation, but we were the ones with the drone. One fault does not preclude another. We have to ask ourselves what we are doing, and at what cost.