War on Terror

The New York Times Is Suing the DOJ Over the Assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki


Back in September President Obama had U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki assassinated. When pressed on the legality of using "targeted killing" against a U.S. citizen without first providing due process, the Most Transparent Administration in History™ clammed up. Eventually word leaked that White House and DOJ lawyers had written a memo justifying the assassination. The memo was "secret." 

In October Charlie Savage of The New York Times convinced someone in the Obama administration to describe the memo to him: 

The secret document provided the justification for acting despite an executive order banning assassinations, a federal law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights and various strictures of the international laws of war, according to people familiar with the analysis. The memo, however, was narrowly drawn to the specifics of Mr. Awlaki's case and did not establish a broad new legal doctrine to permit the targeted killing of any Americans believed to pose a terrorist threat.

The Obama administration has refused to acknowledge or discuss its role in the drone strike that killed Mr. Awlaki last month and that technically remains a covert operation. The government has also resisted growing calls that it provide a detailed public explanation of why officials deemed it lawful to kill an American citizen, setting a precedent that scholars, rights activists and others say has raised concerns about the rule of law and civil liberties.

But the document that laid out the administration's justification — a roughly 50-page memorandum by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, completed around June 2010 — was described on the condition of anonymity by people who have read it.

The legal analysis, in essence, concluded that Mr. Awlaki could be legally killed, if it was not feasible to capture him, because intelligence agencies said he was taking part in the war between the United States and Al Qaeda and posed a significant threat to Americans, as well as because Yemeni authorities were unable or unwilling to stop him.

The memorandum, which was written more than a year before Mr. Awlaki was killed, does not independently analyze the quality of the evidence against him.

That story has become, in part, the basis for a lawsuit Savage and the Times have filed against the DOJ for not disclosing the memo that justifies al-Awlaki's assassination. The lawsuit, which Savage posted online today, "seek[s] the production of agency records improperly withheld by the United States Department of Justice in response to requests properly made by Plaintiffs." While Savage and the Times don't know how many documents exist, Savage's contact in the administration revealed to him that "there exists at least one legal memorandum detailing the legal analysis justifying the government's use of targeted killing."

More excerpts from the lawsuit: 

4.) Given the questions surrounding the legality of the practice under both U.S. and international law, notable legal scholars, human rights activists, and current and former government officials have called for the government to disclose its legal analysis justifying the use of targeted lethal force, especially as it applies to American citizens.

5.) For example, the former legal adviser to the United States Department of State in the Bush administration, John Bellinger, has argued that it is "important to domestic audiences and international audiences for the Administration to explain how the targeting and killing of an American complies with applicable constitutional standards."

6.) To date, the government has not offered a thorough and transparent legal analysis of the issue of targeted killing. Instead, several government officials have made statements broadly asserting the legality of such actions in a conclusory fashion.

Even if The New York Times and Savage win their suit, there is a chance the Obama administration will not comply with the ruling. In spring 2009 Obama refused to comply with a U.S. Court of Appeals decision ordering the Pentagon to release photos of detainees captured in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fate of the photos had been in limbo since the American Civil Liberties Union filed a FOIA suit against the Bush administration in 2006. When the court ordered in April 2009 that the pictures had to be released, Obama initially said he would comply, but three weeks later he changed his mind, saying, "The most direct consequence of releasing them would be to further inflame anti-American opinion, and to put our troops in greater danger." In October of 2009, despite his promise not to withhold information based on "speculative or abstract fears," Obama signed hastily written, bipartisan legislation prohibiting the release of the photos. There's every reason for him to do it again with the al-Awlaki memo. 

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  1. Let me be clear. Up yours, America.

    1. Your a murdering asshole.

      1. I’m going to report American People to AttackWatch.

        If you see something, say something!

    2. I can kill whom I want and the New York Times can blow me.

  2. Hmm. I could compose a 50-page “memo” detailing the case that the Obama administration, and him in particular, are engaged in economic terrorism against American citizens, and that their ongoing obfuscations over targeted killings have had a chilling effect on legitmate political discourse.

    Then we’ll be free to blast him.

    For any gov’t types reading this, no, that is not a threat, it is a hypothetical.

    1. As soon as Reason releases your URL info, I’m coming over to have a little discussion.

    2. No need, the NYT says there is already a memo floating around that justifies killing people who arrange attacks targeting of American citizens.

  3. It’s one thing to kill an enemy soldier in a battle as he and his men are charging your position (or you are trying to overrun his position).

    It’s another thing to have a citizen of your country engaging in treason but not actively involved in the fight when you want to do something about him.

    In that case, the only legal thing the U.S. government is allowed to do is to go to a grand jury and request an indictment for treason. If they can’t do that, or are unwilling to do that for fear that their sources might be compromised, then the only legal recourse they have is to wait for him to pick up a weapon and participate in hostilties or to deal with his continued treason.

    This whining “the law is inconvenient so we get to break it” has made traitors out of many in the executive branch, and I am gobsmacked that the rest of the citizenry does not recognize how dangerous this precedent is.

    1. I’m not a traitor, so I don’t give a fuck.

      1. But if I had fragged your Beloved Leader instead of the other way around you would have. Nation of Hypocrites, that is what ‘America’ means to the rest of the world.

        1. Why should we be any different than any other nation that ever existed?

          1. Except for, MAYBE, the Japanese Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere there is nothing in the history of the world to rival American cognitive dissonance.

            1. I say, ol’ chap, we gave it quite the go!

            2. Shut up Anwar, you’re dead.

              1. Heroic Mulatto|12.21.11 @ 6:10PM|#

                Shut up Anwar, you’re dead.

                Having trouble with a few stains, Lady MacBeth?

    2. —“It’s another thing to have a citizen of your country engaging in treason”—

      Art. III-Section 3 – Treason

      Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

      Did I miss the trial, the witnesses or the confession in open Court? What we have here is an accusation and punishment meted out, without the formality of due process. Amirite?

      1. Not directed at tarran but at those that use this justification for this act.

  4. the Most Transparent Administration in History

    The Invisible Man was so transparent the only way you knew he was there was by the empty suit.

    1. I always thought the Invisible Man would give himself away by jacking off too loudly?

      And if he isn’t polishing the old torpedo in public then what the fuck is the pointing to being invisible?

  5. Wait, I’m missing something. Why is the NYT doing this, instead of some non-profit organization?

    The only answer I can fathom is the Times was not able to get support from any NGO. That seems pretty unlikely, though.

    So either the NYT allegations are off-base, or there is some deeper story to uncover. I wonder which it will turn out to be.

  6. Good on the NYT for turning the screws even though it’s their guy in office.

    But no matter how the suit shakes out, Obama will make sure that the al-Awlaki memo will never see the light of day.

    1. The Admin will say “National Security” and the courts will blink. The NYT will huff away in high dudgeon.

  7. If the leader of America doesn’t obey or follow the rules and laws of this country, why should the citizens? I wonder how long Reason.com and websites like it will be allowed to continue to operate? Be afraid…be very afraid…I am.

  8. notable legal scholars, human rights activists, and current and former government officials have called for the government to disclose its legal analysis

    Very well. Here it is: “Fuck you, that’s what!”

    1. America, fuck yeah
      Coming again, to save the mother fucking day, yeah
      America, fuck yeah
      Freedom is the only way, yeah
      Terrorist your game is through
      ‘Cause now you have to answer too

  9. If Congress wants to impeach the president for killing a terrorist, it’s well within their constitutional prerogative to do so.

    It’s hard to imagine anything coming of this–to put it lightly.

    1. What ever happened to “innocent until proven guilty?” He was not actively fighting at the time, he should of had a trial, at least in absentia. The Constitution has very clear provisions for treason.

      1. He was a recruiter for Al Qaeda. My understanding is that he had been promoted to the position of Regional Commander in Al Qaeda.

        My understanding is that there were more than a dozen emails exchanged between the Fort Hood shooter and Anwar al-Awlaki.

        My understanding is that Anwar al-Awlaki recruited and helped train the underwear bomber.

        Molly Norris, the cartoonist from the Seattle Weekly, had to go into hiding because al-Awlaki issued a fatwa calling for her death.

        You want to sue the U.S. for damages in civil court? Go ahead.

        But in terms of whether the president was authorized to go after Al Qaeda? The AUMF is good enough for me.


        I’m trying to imagine some American fighting for the Imperial Japanese–doing their recruiting and their planning for them. And we’re not allowed to drop bombs on him and target him because he’s an American citizen?


        He made war against the United States as part of an organization–against which the United States was actively authorized by Congress to use the military against?

        Don’t come cryin’ to me ’cause the U.S. used its military against him.

        1. Here’s al-Awlaki’s fatwa in regards to “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” encapsulated…

          “The medicine prescribed by the Messenger of Allah is the execution of those involved

          The large number of participants makes it easier for us because there are more targets to choose from in addition to the difficulty of the government offering all of them special protection … But even then our campaign should not be limited to only those who are active participants.”

          —-Anwar al-Awlaki

          I don’t know if what we’ve been doing against Al Qaeda is technically a war in legalese–but I do know that what al-Awlaki was doing was waging war against the United States as part of Al Qaeda.

          …and that the president has the authorization to use the military force against Al Qaeda.

          So, yeah, that’s good enough for me. If he wanted to avoid being targeted as by the U.S. military, there was an easy way to avoid that. Don’t join Al Qaeda in making war against the United States when the president is authorized to use military force against Al Qaeda.

          1. This time with bacon!


            …or at least a link to the quote anyway.

          2. Ken, I’ll grant all of your justifications for killing Awlaki. I think they are good ones. Now if our Government would just print those same justifications as the bar one has to jump over to be placed on the Marked-For-Death-List and put a pretty signature on the bottom, then I’d be happy.
            Why can’t they do that?

            1. Because then they wouldn’t be able to kill people indiscriminately!

              I’m half serious about that–I think they want to keep as legally free to kill people as they possibly can, but, just for the record, I’m not saying that’s the way it should be–but I do think that’s part of what’s driving their thinking…

              If we stonewall, they think, our actions will stay unconstrained. If we spell it out, on the other hand, we’ll be bound by what we say.

              I think it should be spelled out. They should make the case–and be constrained by it. I just think they’re right in this one case. I think on that one, they got it right.

              Doesn’t mean I approve of other cases, of course. Doesn’t mean that I think our constitutional protections disappear in wartime. Only that if anyone takes up arms against the U.S. in collusion with an enemy the president has been authorized by Congress to use the military against?

              They shouldn’t come cryin’ because they’re treated like the enemy. He joined the enemy. So, he’s treated like the enemy by the military. This is as it should be.

              1. I think you have a fairly reasonable position here. Let me test it though.
                What should happen to Administration officials (President included) when they continually refuse to spell out their reasoning?
                If the answer is “nothing” then they effectively have a free pass to kill whomever they wish at any time for any reason.

        2. I’m trying to imagine some American fighting for the Imperial Japanese

          Yep, that’s why we had to put all them Japanese-Americans into camps. Couldn’t take no chances.

          1. Saying that if there was an American citizen working as a recruiter, trainer and strategist for the Imperial Japanese, and he was making war against the U.S…

            That the president having an authorization from Congress to use the military against the Japanese would make this American-born general in the Imperial Japanese military a target, too?

            That does not equal “Let’s put the Japanese-Americans in internment camps.”

            Those Japanese-Americans were not part of the Imperial Japanese war machine, and they were not waging war against the United States.

            al-Awlaki was part of Al Qaeda, and he was waging war against the United States–at a time when the president had an authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda.

            No comparison whatsoever.

            1. A few Americans *were* tried *in court* for aiding the Japanese.

              Many Americans were locked in camps for the crime of having Japanese ancestors.

              We apologized for the latter – President Reagan signed the apology for the behavior of his liberal Democratic predecessor.

              1. Many Americans were locked in camps for the crime of having Japanese ancestors.

                There is no comparison between al-Awlaki and Japanese-American internment camp victims.

                No one targeted Anwar al-Awlaki because of his ancestry.

                Anwar al-Awlaki was not targeted for being a Muslim.

                al-Awlaki was targeted because he was waging war against the United States–as part of Al Qaeda–when the president had an authorization from Congress to use the military against Al Qaeda.

                If he wanted to avoid the president targeting him with the U.S. military, there was an easy way to avoid that. He shouldn’t have joined Al Qaeda in waging war against the United States at a time when the president was authorized to use military force against Al Qaeda.

    2. Don’t you mean, “a suspected terrorist?”

        1. Ken, I’ll grant all of your justifications for killing Awlaki. I think they are good ones. Now if our Government would just print those same justifications as the bar one has to jump over to be placed on the Marked-For-Death-List and put a pretty signature on the bottom, then I’d be happy.
          Why can’t they do that?

  10. I don’t know why the Obama administration is so paranoid about terrorism. As was clearly demonstrated under Bush, a president gets a pass on the first unprecedentedly huge terrorist attack on his watch, and even gets a large bump in popularity as if they did something good by not preventing it from happening.

    The American people and Republicans definitely wouldn’t hold Obama responsible for an attack. One free massive terrorist attack. That’s the rule.

    1. It’s great to know Gingrich would continue Obama’s legacy of ignoring the judiciary. Heck, Gingrich would probably have a judge arrested who ordered him to release any documents (and then executed for treason, all by military trial of course, God bless America!)

    2. Shorter Tony:
      When Bush did it it was evil, when my master does it, its because Bush also did it.

    3. Hey fuckwad, isn’t there anything that Obama can do that you will call him out on or is you response always saying “Buuuuush!!”?

      1. It’s not in my interest to criticize Obama. His Republican successor will be worse on this issue and every other one.

        1. Tony says Republicans will be worse at killing American citizens than Obama.

        2. Does anyone doubt that Cesar is now running the Tony gag?

  11. The New York Times staff was subsequently indefinitely detained, and never heard from again.

  12. You need to ditch WordStar as your editor. It really screws things up? when you cut and paste into your web page.

    (Lots of weird, stray characters in the article.)

  13. Why should some guy in Yemen be afforded US due process?

    His nationality is unimportant. Yemen should arrest the suspected killer if they can.

    The US Constitution does not apply there.

    1. Well put it this way, should the government kill someone close to you while they are overseas, I doubt you would like them to tell you: “Well since we killed them in another country, the US constitution does not apply there, so tough luck for you”.

      1. So why weren’t Pat Tillman’s murderers tried?

        And those who destroyed the evidence as accessories?

        Granted, they may have been found not guilty but a trial was in order based on the fact his killers were Americans.

        1. I don’t know who Pat Tillman is, regardless who did what to him, an injustice does not somehow make other injustices right.

    2. The US Constitution does not apply there.

      The Constitution does apply to the actions of the U.S. government.

      I see two important questions:

      1) Was he part of Al Qaeda and waging war against the United States?

      2) Did the president have the authorization from Congress to use military force against Al Qaeda?

      Those are the important questions to me.

      1. And was he afforded due process and given a trial by a jury of his peers to determine whether he was part of Al Qaeda and waging war against the United States?

        I believe he most likely was, and this would have probably been justified had he been given due process, but unlike you, Ken, I’m not willing to take the government’s word for it.

        1. Wow, my grammar is shitty.

          That is to be – “I believe he was *working with Al Qaeda*…”

        2. For the moment, let’s put due-process (courts, lawyers, etc) aside.
          Let’s grant Ken that the AUMF give the Prez the power to kill a citizen if said “aligns” with Al Qaeda in a “significant way.”
          Who decides what “aligns” and “significant way” means? What act does a US Citizen have to commit in order to be placed in a group that the US military may kill with impunity?
          More importantly, why has no one in our government enumerated these acts that would justify placing citizens on this list?

    3. The next time you go out of the country, I hope you get bombed by a Predator Drone.

      1. Sorry, that comment was for Crystal Meth.

  14. The legal analysis, in essence, concluded that Mr. Awlaki could be legally killed, if it was not feasible to capture him…

    Noreiga had an army in front of him and we somehow managed to capture him. Saddam Hussein was the same. But Obama wants the hammer well and truly dropped on some goof who made videos, frequented prostitutes and was probably an informant for the government?

    It still stinks of bullshit.

  15. Babbling about the will of Allah while crouched simian-like in caves plotting acts of slaughter should get you killed.

    1. So you agree with Che Guevara about trials, then?

  16. I see the war mongers are out in force today. Don’t you guys have enough sex or something, or is acting tougher than Genghis Khan the hip new thing ?

  17. That certainly does make a lot of sense dude. Wow.


  18. What about the guys 16 year old son? He was assassinated two weeks later by Obama. Was there a ‘memo’ just for him also?

    A vote for Ron Paul is a vote for Peace.

    A vote for any other, including Obama, is a vote for endless war, assassinations, life in prison without charge, crushing debt and enough deficit spending to enslave Americans for generations.

  19. Roman rulers used to have the habit of posting laws high up on pillars so the people couldn’t see what laws governed them until they got arrested and executed.

    Obama is doing the same thing with this memo about when it’s OK to single out a US citizen for execution without trial.

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