Since the killing of al-Qaeda recruiter and firebrand Anwar al-Awlaki by a Hellfire missile fired from an Unmanned Air Vehicle over Yemen Sept. 30, various mainstream publications have continued to carp about the legality and morality—morality!—of the White House-sanctioned strike. The latest was just last week (Oct. 8) by one of the most respected, most influential periodicals anywhere. In a sharply worded editorial, the magazine posed this question: “Whatever the legality, is this system (the use of UAVs) of meting out justice compatible with America’s longer-term interests?” The answer is “No,” the publication proffered. The crux of the caviling, starting with Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, is that Awaki was an American citizen.
Am I the only one perplexed and fed up by all this smug, self-righteous indignation?
The legalities of such action are well established—something I would have expected the more reputable newspapers and journals to know. For example, in the 1942 Ex Parte Quirin case involving Nazi saboteurs, the Supreme Court stated, “Citizenship in the United States of an enemy belligerent does not relieve him from the consequences of belligerency.” In other words, Awlaki was entitled to no special consideration just because he was born in the U.S.
Awlaki was actively working on the side of a tenacious terrorist organization that has been targeting the U.S. for nearly two decades. Only the most naiive ideologue would reject—or dismiss as irrelevant—the idea that, given the opportunity, he would have had a hand in detonating a stolen nuclear device or a dirty bomb in a major American city.
U.S. and NATO troops may be coming home from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, but America will continue to be engaged in a war against a fiendish enemy who recognizes no rules of engagement and no rules of war in its persistent menace to the civilized world generally, and U.S. national security, in particular. Theirs is a take-no-prisoners world in which every person is fair game—all the better if they are American.
From the comfort of their offices far removed from the carnage that terrorists unleash daily, the mainstream press has the luxury of pontificating about the relative merits of eliminating Awlaki or how he was killed, pronouncing what is in bounds and what is out of bounds. How noble. The truth of the matter is that killing Awlaki by whatever means necessary, regardless of his citizenship, was another victory against al-Qaeda and did serve America’s longer-term interests—even if the mainstream press still doesn't get it.