Killing the ‘Devil’?: Weak Men, Cruel Men & the Extrajudicial Killing of Anwar al-Awlaki

Anwar al-Awlaki

“Do not consult anyone in killing Americans . . . killing the devil does not need any fatwa.” These are the words of Yemeni-American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, a man who was ruthlessly murdered in the al-Jawf province of Yemen in a joint strike carried out by US and Yemeni forces on September 30, 2011.  Mere hours after this illegal assassination, President Obama gave a speech before the cold applause of the military, hailing the international crime as “a tribute to our intelligence community” and a “rejection of the hateful ideology” that supports the”[targeting] of innocent civilians.” Putting aside these empty words, Anwar’s statements of violence, along with others, was used by the Obama administration to illustrate the “terrorist threat” that Awlaki posed to American citizens, and ultimately to carry out an extrajudicial killing that goes against all elementary principles of international law. How startlingly ironic it is that Awlaki was murdered by the American government under the pretext of statements aimed at killing American citizens while the Obama administration goes beyond words and unlawfully kills American citizens in order to justify protecting them. If it is true that Anwar was a threat to the American public, his assassination has resolutely proven that whatever threat Awlaki posed, he fails to approach the threat posed by our own President.

Raymond Davis

Since his much-lauded rise to the rank of “leader of the free world”, this Nobel Laureate has waged a decisive campaign of assassination against anyone suspected of harboring animosity toward the military superpower that is the United States. The nature of this campaign was most graphically demonstrated in the grossly illegal killing of Osama bin Laden, a crime that former President of the National Lawyers Guild, Marjorie Cohn, cited as “[creating] a dangerous precedent, which could be used to justify the targeted killings of U.S. leaders.” This criticism is worth bearing in mind as the US not only has a long, bloody history of sponsoring terrorism, from the Contras in Nicaragua to the Pinochet dictatorship, but is actively participating in terrorist atrocities in places like Pakistan and most recently Bahrain. No one seems to understand that if  the US government were to take seriously their own definition of terrorism as published in the US Army manual–“the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature . . . through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear”–this assassination campaign would be aimed at the rulers in Washington. No one seems to comprehend that while the propaganda system is hammering us to death with demands to “support our troops” in illegal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it has conveniently forgotten that we also should be supporting our troops in a mission to wipe out George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Barack Obama, and virtually the entire Department of Defense. More appropriately, where are the predator drones flying over the airspace of Florida, a state where US-backed Cuban terrorist Luis Posada comfortably lounges with complete impunity despite his crime in the blowing up of a Cuban airliner in 1976, an attack that killed 73 innocent people? Or what about the terrorist acts of the Israeli Defense League in their murder of American citizen ,Furkan Dogan, aboard the humanitarian “flotilla” bound for the Gaza strip?  Furthermore, our complicity in terrorism is beyond speculation. In fact, these atrocities have been extensively documented by reputable human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The most recent report by Amnesty shows how the government of Lithuania collaborated with the CIA in “[hosting] two secret CIA detention facilities between 2002 and 2006.”

In lieu of these uncontroversial facts which show the massive scope of US crimes, it would be morally irresponsible if we did not ask ourselves “why”. Why, in the midst of all the terrorist atrocities that the US is participating in around the world has no one–outside of a few honest thinkers like Noam Chomsky–made the connection between official US policy and the culpability of its leaders in meeting the standard of a “military target” under these policies? The answer to this question has deep historical roots, roots which center around the US definition of military targets as defined by the US Air Force.

President Obama at the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall (Sept. 30, 2011)

During our genocidal war in Indochina, a war that the Japanese Legal Committee deemed representative of a “policy of world hegemony”, the US Air Force ROTC of Air University released a report titled Fundamentals of Aerospace Weapons Systems. In this report, which covered such topics as the use of incendiary bombs as an “effective psychological weapon against any target”, the term “military target” is given a precise definition, one that has persisted up to the point of al-Awlaki’s murder.  The publication goes on to say “a military target is as any person, thing, idea, entity, or location selected for destruction, inactivation, or rendering nonusable with weapons which will reduce or destroy the will or ability of the enemy to resist.” Ideas? Locations? Entities? A simple reading of this official definition speaks volumes to the overt criminality of US foreign policy. Unlike people of flesh and blood, “ideas,” “locations”, and “entities” cannot be brought before a court of law and given a fair trial. Rather, these intransigent barriers to US domination are subject to swift extermination, whether this idea embodies itself in a Yemeni cleric or a Pashtun farmer.        

The Obama administration and its blatant disregard for the rule of law casts a dark pall on the  future of not only the US but of the entire world as every assault on the principles of law reinforces the desire of others to do the same.  The American government is illegally murdering people around the globe under the guise of “counter-terrorism” and unless the American people raise their voices against this madness the record will become more bloody and egregious.  Great British philosopher and social critic, Bertrand Russell, once said in protest to the gruesome brutality of the US in Vietnam that “weak men protect cruel men” while “good men are the victims of both.” President Obama, a remarkably weak man, has consistently protected cruel men from Prince al-Khalifa in Bahrain, Luis Posada in Florida, to Raymond Davis in Pakistan. Good men, women, and children from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, and Iraq have systematically been reduced to the role of the “victim of both”. It is due time for these weak and cruel individuals, rampaging the world in a stupor of arrogance, to pay for their criminal deeds, to pay their debt to their victims. Unlike the Obamas, Posodas, and Davises of the world, these good men will not need the wonders of advanced weaponry, predator drones, or  black site prisons to achieve their objectives. All these men need is a courtroom, a judge, a jury, and a prosecutor. Above the “psychological effectiveness” of bombs, these men understand the legal and moral force of international law. Anwar al-Awlaki preached that “killing the devil does not need any fatwa” and Obama responded with the message that killing a suspect does not need a court order. Now that Awlaki has been murdered what else but a court of law can thoroughly evaluate the alleged legitimacy of the Obama administration’s decision to murder al-Awlaki? What , outside of the urgent appeals of these routinely brutalized good men, will allow us to bring these cruel, weak men to trial? What else will enable us to make that essential distinction: who is the real killer and who is the obscured devil?

“Anwar Al-Awlaki Killed in Yemen – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.” AJE – Al Jazeera English. Web. 30 Sept. 2011. <;.
“ZCommunications | The Targeted Assassination of Osama Bin Laden by Marjorie Cohn | ZNet Article.” Z Communications. Web. 08 Sept. 2011.
“US: Stop Proposed Arms Sales to Bahrain | Human Rights Watch.” Human Rights Watch | Defending Human Rights Worldwide. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2011. <;.
“Lithuania: Re-open secret prison investigation now | Amnesty International.” Amnesty International | Working to Protect Human Rights. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2011. <;.
Duffett, John. Against the crime of silence. New York, London: Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation (Flanders, New Jersey:) O’Hare Books, 1968. Print.

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