Sunday, October 23, 2011

23/10 U.S. airstrike that killed American teen in Yemen raises legal, ethical questions

By Published: October 23

One week after a U.S. military airstrike killed a 16-year-old American citizen in Yemen, no one in the Obama administration, Pentagon or Congress has taken responsibility for his death, or even publicly acknowledged that it happened.
The absence of official accountability for the demise of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a Denver native and the son of an al-Qaeda member, deepens the legal and ethical murkiness of the Obama administration’s campaign to kill alleged enemies of the state outside of traditional war zones.

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Unlike the secretive U.S. airstrikes that have killed hundreds of foreigners in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, this case involved an American teenager. He was killed by the U.S. military in a country with which Washington is not at war.
Officials throughout the U.S. government, however, have refused to answer questions for the record about how or why Awlaki was killed Oct. 14 in a remote part of Yemen, along with eight other people.
The Obama administration has asserted the right to launch attacks against al-Qaeda members anywhere in the world, saying there is no difference between a battlefield in Afghanistan and a suspected terrorist hideout in Yemen or Somalia.
But when U.S. forces kill civilians or operations go awry in traditional war zones such as Afghanistan or Iraq, the military routinely conducts official investigations. The results are often declassified and released as public records.
“If the government is going to be firing Predator missiles at American citizens, surely the American public has a right to know who’s being targeted, and why,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The official silence about the death of the American teenager contrasts with the Obama administration’s eagerness to trumpet another airstrike in Yemen two weeks earlier. In that case, armed drones controlled by the CIA killed the teen’s father,Anwar al-Awlaki, a dual Yemeni-American citizen who worked as a propagandist for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
U.S. and Yemeni counter­terrorism officials had been searching for the elder Awlaki for years, describing him as a dangerous terrorist who posed a direct threat to the United States.
“The death of Awlaki is a major blow to al-Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate,” Obama said hours after the Sept. 30 airstrike.
“This country is much safer as a result of the loss of Awlaki,” said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.
“I’m glad they did it,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), vice chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
In the case of Awlaki’s son, however, U.S. officials have been willing to talk only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Two U.S. officials said the intended target of the Oct. 14 airstrike was Ibrahim al-Banna, an Egyptian who was a senior operative in Yemen’s al-Qaeda affiliate.
Obama administration lawyers have said the military and CIA can target suspected terrorists outside of war zones only if they represent a direct threat to U.S. interests. But the criteria they use remain shrouded in mystery. There is no external review by the courts.

One administration official described the younger Awlaki as a bystander, in the wrong place at the wrong time. “The U.S. government did not know that Mr. Awlaki’s son was there” before the order to launch the missile was given, the official said.
Another U.S. official said the airstrike was launched by the military’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC. It remains unclear whether the missile was fired by a remotely piloted drone or a fighter jet.
Two U.S. officials, again speaking on the condition of anonymity, suggested in the days after the strike that Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was in his 20s, calling him a “military-age male.” Such a description, under the laws of war, might make it easier to justify his killing.
On Tuesday, however, Awlaki’s family released a copy of his U.S. birth certificateshowing that he turned 16 on Aug. 26.
Defense Department officials declined to answer questions about the airstrike or say whether any official investigations or reviews were underway.
“We do not discuss the specifics of our operations,” said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.
Kenneth S. McGraw, a spokesman for the Special Operations Command in Tampa, referred queries to the U.S. Central Command, the joint headquarters responsible for operations in Yemen.
Maj. T.G. Taylor, a Central Command spokesman, also declined to talk about the Oct. 14 airstrike. “Anytime we conduct operations, it’s of utmost importance to us to avoid civilian casualties or collateral damage,” Taylor said.
The State Department said Tuesday that it could not confirm the younger Awlaki’s death. Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, declined to comment, although he spoke in general terms about the dangers of U.S. citizens traveling in Yemen.
The younger Awlaki was the third U.S. citizen killed by the U.S. government in Yemen in recent weeks. The Obama administration has said that U.S. citizens do not have immunity from being targeted for death if they are al-Qaeda members. In addition to the elder Awlaki, the Sept. 30 CIA drone attack killed Samir Khan, an al-Qaeda propagandist from Charlotte.
All individuals targeted by the JSOC must be approved in advance by the National Security Council, said a senior U.S. official. Afterward, the JSOC files detailed reports through the Special Operations Command and then to the Joint Staff in the Pentagon.
By comparison, the CIA’s covert armed drone program has come to be treated as an open secret in Washington — not formally acknowledged, but defended and described in abundant detail by U.S. officials in unofficial conversations.
Congressional officials said that if the Oct. 14 strike had been executed by the CIA, the Senate and House intelligence committees would likely have been notified right away. On Thursday, military officials presented a closed briefing on the JSOC airstrike to members of the Senate Armed Services committee. Members of the panel declined to discuss details.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee would not say whether the panel had been briefed or was reviewing the 16-year-old’s death.
Staff writers Greg Jaffe and Greg Miller contributed to this report.

10/23/2011 1:34 PM GMT+0900
Hanging around with terrorists will get you dead. It's not really all that unique of an outcome. I'm not bothered by what happened, it wasn't very avoidable. It'd be different if it were obviously a child, but when it comes to war age 16 is not the realm of a child.
10/23/2011 2:56 PM GMT+0900
You definitely have a point, but what's your age cutoff?
And if it was the child of an American terrorist would you feel the same way? The terrorist is extra evil for putting his own child in harm's way but I think they took bin Laden out without harming any wives or children, didn't they? I think the 16 yo deserved a chance to live at least for another couple of years, even if he was a terrorist in training.
10/23/2011 5:25 PM GMT+0900
He may have been on his way to detonate his suicide belt.
10/23/2011 5:53 PM GMT+0900
You, by default believe our leaders on their word alone? Super secret evidence? Such gullibility is dangerous for our Constitutional Republic.
10/23/2011 8:02 PM GMT+0900

It's okay. Obama has a (D) after his name. Nothing to see here. Now, move along.

Tribal loyalty flows along party lines in this country.
10/23/2011 10:10 PM GMT+0900
Actually, how would it be different if it were a child?

If enemies can avoid retribution simply by surrounding themselves with innocents, you will simply be inviting them to kidnap or otherwise keep in proximity American citizens as human shields and, in countiries like Yemen that have no effective rule of law, make themselves immune to retaliation by the U.S.
10/23/2011 10:40 PM GMT+0900
Most of the comments here echo the fact that most of the public is extremely desensitized and selfish. And that's what the gov't wants... after all, it's not you or me is it? If it's not us or anyone we know or care about, meh. This is really the kind of thing that allowed the holocaust to go on. I don't know about you guys, but weren't we forced to learn year after year about the holocaust and it's reasons for taking place? The evil of a tiny group of individuals and the apathy/fear/hatred of a...See More
10/23/2011 11:18 PM GMT+0900
Agree!!!! Don't go where missile strikes will be made against terrorists and your will not
be killed by one. My Viet Nam experience reminds me that people even younger than 16
can be deadly.
10/23/2011 11:51 PM GMT+0900
Killing Vietnamese in their own country....wrong wrong wrong at any age.

We will never even figure basic things like not invading other countries and killing millions.
10/24/2011 1:03 AM GMT+0900
We are a horrible country.
10/24/2011 1:22 AM GMT+0900
Spoken by a liberal puke who has never seen how deadly a 16 yr old can be. Go hug a tree or save a field mouse somewhere.
10/24/2011 2:00 AM GMT+0900
So if age 16 is not "in the realm of a child", then why is the age of enlistment 18 and not 16?

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