BOSTON — The United States was justified in killing U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen because he was an Al Qaeda recruiter and propagandist, said former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Cheney defended Obama's decision to kill Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen, saying that the U.S. must attack terrorists. There is controversy over whether Obama was justified in ordering the killing of Awlaki, who was a dual American and Yemeni citizen.
“It was a very good strike,” Cheney said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” broadcast. “The president ought to have that kind of authority to order that kind of strike, even when it involves an American citizen, when there is clear evidence that he’s part of Al Qaeda.”
Cheney was backed up by Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee before she quit in February to join the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, urged the administration to release legal documents she said provided the support for the drone strike against al-Awlaki in Yemen.
“I believe there is a good case,” Harman, of California, said on the broadcast. Al-Awlaki was an “imminent threat” who was beyond the U.S. ability to capture and “had complicity” with al-Qaeda, Harman said.
Awlaki was identified by the Office of Foreign Assets Control list of “specially designated nationals” as a 40-year-old native of Las Cruces, New Mexico, with dual U.S. and Yemeni citizenship. Last year, President Barack Obama approved an order making him the first American ever to be placed on the Central Intelligence Agency’s hit list.
The Obama administration has the right to target American citizens when they are outside the U.S. when the nation is at war, as it has been since the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, Cheney asserted.
“The Obama administration has clearly reached the point where they’ve agreed they need to be tough and aggressive in defending the nation and using some of the same techniques that the Bush administration did,” Cheney said.
However the American Civil Liberties Union does not agree. It said “the targeted killing violates both U.S. and international law.”
The ACLU condemned the campaign in which “American citizens far from the battlefield can be executed without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts,” said ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer on Sept 30.
The Justice Department wrote a memorandum authorizing the killing of Awlaki, following a review by senior administration lawyers of the legal issues involved, the Washington Post reported Saturday, citing unidentified administration officials.
The Post cited the officials as saying there was no dissent about the legality of killing Awlaki. Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler and White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to comment on the memorandum.
Friday’s CIA drone strike, which killed Awlaki and a second American, came after days of careful surveillance and many months of searching. It stripped Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula of two of its major propagandists and proponents of hitting Western targets, according to intelligence officials and terrorism experts.
But those individuals also cautioned that the group, which has a number of prominent members with a deep hatred for the United States, will continue to seize any opportunity to wound the West.
“Eliminating any single person doesn’t have a game-changing impact, and this won’t. But it’s a significant strike against Al Qaeda,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House intelligence committee. Awlaki “had an almost unique ability to reach out to Westerners — he was good with technology, he was a good propagandist, he understood Western culture, and he could attract people that could travel with U.S. passports.”
U.S. officials said that Awlaki’s operational role and the imminence of the threat he posed led them in early 2010 to place him on a capture or kill list. Yet he proved to be an elusive target.
U.S. security experts warned that Al Qaeda in Yemen remains a threat.