Was the targeted assassination of American citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki legal?

October 3, 2011

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(AP/Yemen News Agency)
Yemen has been an active front in the war on terror. In 2008, a car bomb killed ten at the U.S. Embassy in San’a, Yemen.

Last Friday, U.S. forces killed Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone attack in Yemen, along with U.S.-born propagandist Samir Khan. The State Department just issued a travel alert to Americans, warning of a heightened risk of violence in the wake of al-Awlaki’s assassination.

A dual Yemeni-American citizen, al-Awlaki was instrumental in spreading Al Qaeda’s message throughout the Arabian Peninsula through religious sermons and savvy online outreach. His death marks the most significant milestone in the war on terror since the killing of Osama bin Laden by a special operations unit in Pakistan.

But the manner in which al-Awlaki was killed raises questions. Has the Obama administration's armed drone program become the new standard for U.S. military campaigns?  And is it legal? Does President Obama's decision to execute a U.S. citizen without judicial process set a precedent that will transcend his administration? And how will this assasination change relations between the U.S. and Yemen? The government has already accused the U.S. of disrespect for its repeated calls for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. As Yemen's deputy information minister Abdu al-Janadi told Reuters, "The Americans don't even respect those who cooperate with them."

Mary Ellen O’Connell, a legal scholar at Notre Dame University and the vice president of the American Society of International Law, discusses the ramifications of al-Awlaki's assassination.

 

Video of Mary Ellen O’Connell discussing the drone strikes: