x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

US must reply on Al Awlaki killing

In targeting one of its own citizens for death without putting any evidence before a US court, the Obama administration is shining a light on how it conducts war

If the United States government seeks to kill you, who will stop them? This question is one that many families in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq must have asked over the past decade of wars. Particularly as drone strikes have become common, what are the rights of those targeted in the strikes or those innocently blown to pieces as “collateral damage”?

This question is particularly relevant to this part of the world because the primary victims of drone strikes are Pakistani, Afghan and Yemeni citizens. This has been the subject of scrutiny at a trial in the US over the deaths in a 2011 drone strike of three American citizens in Yemen: Anwar Al Awlaki, Samir Khan and Al Awlaki’s 16-year old son Abdulrahman. The US targeted Al Awlaki and Khan as members of Al Qaeda, although the evidence against them remains secret. Al Awlaki’s father, also a US citizen, sought damages from the US government.

The trial judge, Rosemary Collyer, repeatedly asked the Obama administration where the “due process” was in the case. She was unsatisfied with the response and declared: “The executive is not an effective check on the executive”, meaning that the Obama adminstration could not simply declare someone guilty and be taken on trust.

But in her ruling on Friday, Ms Collyer sided with the administration and dismissed the lawsuit, saying the senior officials could not be held responsible for financial damages in the course of conducting war.

The case matters to this region because if the United States can simply kill three of its own citizens, what does that mean for non-US citizens caught up in its wars? Remember that Al Awlaki was in Yemen, a country with which the US is not at war, meaning that there is no difference between the Obama administration targeting them there or on the boulevards of Paris or even the streets of Washington DC.

Few would argue that Al Awlaki was a model citizen. But in targeting a citizen for death without putting any evidence before a US court, the Obama administration is shining a light on how it conducts business, how it conducts the wars that have led to so many families of non-Americans mourning for their loved ones. It is not a pleasant sight. The United States must do better and afford all those accused of crimes the due process of knowing what they are accused of. That is what a nation built on laws would do, even in a time of war.