Anwar al-Awlaki (also spelled al-Aulaqi) was never charged with a crime. Despite the lack of charges and trials, the US government executed the American-born citizen in a targeted drone strike in Yemen on September 30, 2011. The same drone strike killed fellow American Samir Khan. Al-Awlaki’s 16 year-old son Adulrahman was killed in another strike a few weeks later, making three American murdered by their own government without any pretense of trial or due process.
The assassination became a public controversy during John Brennan‘s nomination to the head of the Central Intelligence Agency after his time as President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser. The New York Times ran a story based on interviews with various anonymous administration officials on Sunday, March 9, prompting accusations of serving as a mouthpiece for government propaganda.
The ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights issued a joint statement blasting the Times’ article as “the latest in a series of one-sided, selective disclosures that prevent meaningful public debate and legal or even political accountability for the government’s killing program.”
Charlie Savage and Scott Shane, the Times reporters who wrote the article, uncritically describe Al-Awlaki using the government’s words. They call him “a senior operative in Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen” and a terrorist leader,” yet Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting noted both accusations remain unproven and dubious. The ACLU’s statement goes on to correctly point out:
Government officials have made serious allegations against Anwar al-Aulaqi, but allegations are not evidence, and the whole point of the Constitution’s due process clause is that a court must distinguish between the two. If the government has evidence that Al-Aulaqi posed an imminent threat at the time it killed him, it should present that evidence to a court….