Dead Men Tell No Tales: The CIA and the Awlaki Assassination
October 12, 2011
by Tom Burghardt
October 12, 2011
On September 30, the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) assets under the Agency’s control, assassinated the alleged “external operations” chief of the Afghan-Arab database of disposable Western intelligence assets, also known as Al-Qaeda, Anwar al-Awlaki, and a second American citizen, Samir Khan, the 25-year-old editor of Inspire magazine, in a drone strike in Yemen.
As The Washington Post reported last month, the “commingling” of CIA officers, JSOC paramilitary troops and contractors “occupy an expanding netherworld between intelligence and military operations” where “congressional intelligence and armed services committees rarely get a comprehensive view.”
Or any “view” at all, which is precisely what the CIA and Pentagon have long desired; an oversight-free zone where American policymakers operate, as Dick Cheney infamously put it, on the “dark side,” a position fully-embraced by the “hope and change” administration of Barack Obama.
Awlaki’s state-sponsored killing, like the May 2 murder of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, resurface many unanswered questions concerning the 9/11 attacks, the so-called trigger for America’s global “War on Terror.”
But before turning to those issues, it is necessary to take a detour and examine administration actions; specifically the deliberations undertaken by Obama’s national security team which culminated in Awlaki’s death.
White House “Death Panel”
Unlike the fantasies of the corporate-controlled Tea Party who charged during the run-up to the White House sell-out of health care reform that the administration would create “death panels” to deny care to the elderly, it has since emerged that Team Obama has stood-up the authentic article.
According to The Washington Post, President Obama’s Justice Department “wrote a secret memorandum authorizing the lethal targeting” of Awlaki. The Post reports that the memorandum “was produced following a review of the legal issues raised by striking a U.S. citizen and involved senior lawyers from across the administration. There was no dissent about the legality of killing Aulaqi.”
That memorandum, according to The New York Times, was drafted in June 2010, some six months after Awlaki had been placed on the White House hit list, by Office of Legal Counsel attorneys “David Barron and Martin Lederman.”
Both former OLC lawyers are prominent “liberals” from prestigious universities; Barron at Harvard and Lederman at Georgetown University.
Ironically enough, in several scholarly articles they had railed against the previous administration’s adaptation of the “Unitary Executive Theory” promulgated by “torture memo” authors Jay Bybee and John Yoo.
Under Bush, OLC opinions were used to justify everything from warrantless wiretapping, the domestic deployment of the military to arrest Americans, to the torture and indefinite detention of “terrorist” suspects at the Guantánamo Bay prison gulag and CIA “black sites.”
This of course begs the question: if Awlaki’s murder was “legal,” why then was the authorization to do so reached in camera by officials following a deliberative process which can’t be shared with the public because of “national security”?
The answer should be chilling and shocking to all Americans: because the nucleus of a death squad state recalling those stood-up in Chile and Argentina during the “dirty war” period of the 1970s may now exist.
Reuters disclosed that Americans “are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions, according to officials.”
“There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel,” reporter Mark Hosenball wrote, “which is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council. … Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.”
According to Reuters, “targeting recommendations are drawn up by a committee of mid-level National Security Council and agency officials. Their recommendations are then sent to the panel of NSC ‘principals,’ meaning Cabinet secretaries and intelligence unit chiefs, for approval.”
A “former official” told Hosenball that “one of the reasons for making senior officials principally responsible for nominating Americans for the target list was to ‘protect’ the president,” i.e., provide Obama legal cover under the thin veneer afforded by “plausible deniability.”
McClatchy News reported that “broadly speaking” White House orders to kill Awlaki were based on claims that “the nation’s inherent right of self-defense [is] recognized under international law.” However, “international law also imposes limits: Targeted killing is banned except to protect against ‘concrete, specific and imminent’ danger.”
And although the administration now claims that Awlaki was targeted for death because “his role in AQAP had gone ‘from inspirational to operational’,” Reuters disclosed that “officials acknowledge that some of the intelligence purporting to show Awlaki’s hands-on role in plotting attacks was patchy.”
In fact, the White House has failed to provide any proof whatsoever that Awlaki posed an “imminent danger” to the United States, although there is considerable evidence that he was on the radar of U.S. and allied secret state intelligence agencies for more than a decade, had close ties to several of the 9/11 hijackers and could have been picked up and indicted at any time.
Instead, federal law enforcement officials gave Awlaki a green light to leave the United States, unlike thousands of innocent Muslim-Americans swept-up and detained by the FBI in the post-9/11 hysteria that followed the attacks.
A “former military intelligence officer who worked with special operations troops to hunt down high-value terrorism targets,” told the right-wing Washington Times: “I think it’s pretty easy to understand why they didn’t take him alive. Would you want to deal with the hassle of trying to put him on trial, an American citizen that has gotten so much press for being the target of a CIA kill order? That would be a nightmare. The ACLU would be crawling all over the Justice Department for due process in an American court.”
That about sums up the dominant mindset of an Empire in sharp decline: the rule of law and due process for criminal suspects reduced to a “hassle.”