White House lawyers are mulling the legality of proposed attempts to kill an American citizen, Anwar al Awlaki, who is believed to be part of the leadership of the al Qaeda group in Yemen behind a series of terror strikes, according to two people briefed by U.S. intelligence officials.
One of the people briefed said opportunities to “take out” Awlaki “may have been missed” because of the legal questions surrounding a lethal attack which would specifically target an American citizen.
While Awlaki has not been charged with any crimes under U.S. law, intelligence officials say recent intelligence reports and electronic intercepts show he played an important role in recruiting the accused “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Awlaki also carried on extensive e-mail communication with the accused Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Hasan, prior to the attack that killed 12 soldiers and one civilian.
According to the people who were briefed on the issue, American officials fear the possibility of criminal prosecution without approval in advance from the White House for a targeted strike against Awlaki.
Obviously, there are underlying considerations of law and authority here, but that’s not the point. When it comes to the safety and security of the American people, we cannot flinch. And in this new intelligence culture, which needs to watch its back as much as it watches its front, flinching is only natural. Throughout last year, when Barack Obama refused to rule out investigation of our intelligence officials, when Eric Holder actively began to pursue them, and when Nancy Pelosi accused the CIA of “systematically lying” to Congress, our intelligence community must have been shaken to its core.
Every day, these people are on the front lines, exposed in a way most will never know or understand. Every day, their decisions affect the lives of millions, a single hesitation or slip possibly costing an airliner and everyone aboard. And as much as these brave Americans don’t do what they do because they expect recognition or a huge, public medal ceremony, they shouldn’t have to worry about being left out to dry, either. We need to recognize, here in the United States, who the enemies are. In some cases, like in the case of Anwar al Awlaki, those enemies might be Americans. At the end of the day, though, we need to err on the side of saving innocent American lives — and from the look of this, the Obama administration just doesn’t seem to be up to the task.