Anwar al-Awlaki
Anwar al-Awlaki, one of most wanted terrorists of al Qaeda on a U.S. target list, was killed in Yemen, according to both Yemeni and U.S. officials on Thursday, officials said. Reuters

The killing of terrorist mastermind Anwar Al-Awlaki, in Yemen last week, by the United States has raised legal questions, with many international law experts saying that the ideal course of action would have been to bring Awlaki to a U.S. court.

Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, held citizenship status with both the U.S. and Yemen. He fled the U.S. shortly before the 9/11 terrorist attack. The U.S., recently, issued a kill order against him, soon after the al-Qaeda attack.

He was later also linked to shootings at Fort Hood, Tx., in 2009, that saw the death of 13 people, as well as the attempted Times Square bombing. The U.S. had accused Awlaki of masterminding the operations of the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and trying to launch terrorist attacks on the country.


Those who criticize the killing of Awlaki highlight the point that he was, after all, a U.S. citizen.

As we've seen today, it's a program under which U.S. citizens far removed from the battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process and on the basis of standards and evidence that are secret, Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, told Reuters.

However, supporters of the decision to execute Awlaki and similar terrorists on the foreign soil say he was a traitor and a long-drawn out war against terrorists has been going on.

A Reuters source, who is a former U.S. national security official, said Awlaki's killing followed the procedures put in place to deal with such situations. According to the source, before Awlaki's name was placed on the CIA list of terrorists to be killed, it was sent to the White House for approval, as he was a U.S. citizen.

Armed Conflict

Some experts have argued that the killing of Awlaki in Yemen amounts to an instance of extra judicial killing, as the U.S. is not engaged in an armed conflict there, unlike Iraq or Afghanistan.

... every American knows that the U.S. is not engaged in an armed conflict in Yemen - not a real armed conflict. Nevertheless, President Obama placed an American citizen in Yemen on a kill list, Mary Ellen O’Connell wrote in a blog on CNN.

O’Connell argues that killing in war is justifiable morally and legally because of the extraordinary situation of real hostilities. However, when no such situation exists, killing a terrorist by order of the President sets a bad precedent. If the logic behind the killing of Awlaki is applied in a different context, terrorists inside the country can be targeted as well and this amounts to violation of law, she argued.

And what about within the U.S.? If the president can target suspects in Yemen, why not here? And why just the president? Why can’t governors order missile strikes on suspected terrorists and other criminals? she asked, in her blog.


The killing violates the Fifth Amendment, Francis Boyle, an expert in international law at the University of Illinois, Champaign, said.

No person deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, he argued, adding that the killing of Awlaki is a real body blow against the United States Constitution by the Obama administration---the murder and assassination of a U.S. citizen in gross violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Sherwood Ross, writing in Global Research, says that by Awlaki's killing President Obama has once again authorized a murder.

Where Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo failed miserably, Presidents Bush and Obama have brilliantly succeeded in turning America into a totalitarian state that can execute on a president's whim, Ross added.

Bin Laden Killing

Many observers compare Awlaki's killing to the execution of Osama bin Laden earlier in the year, in Pakistan's Abottabad, and ask why the U.S. is not focused on nabbing the terror masterminds alive and making them undergo the legal process in the United States.

Nicholas Schmidle wrote in The New Yorker that the operation to capture bin Laden had always been a shoot-and-kill deal. He pointed out that the Navy SEALs had the opportunity to capture bin Laden in the Abottabad complex but chose to shoot him dead.

However, the counter argument is that capturing Awlaki alive and bringing him to justice in the U.S. were near impossibilities and that Awlaki's potential to cause harm to U.S. citizens was quite established.

The Wall Street Journal quoted a senior US official as saying: “His death takes a committed terrorist, intent on attacking the United States, off the battlefield. Awlaki and AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] are also responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Yemen and throughout the region, which have killed scores of Muslims.”