Defending An Active Terrorist

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The decision of the ACLU and CCR (the Center for Constitutional Rights) to represent Anwar al-Awlaki, even as he continues to emit clear death threats to writers and cartoonists, seems to me to cross a line. Mercifully I am not alone:

A CCR board member has distanced herself from the group's decision to represent Awlaki's interests. Karima Bennoune, a law professor at Rutgers school of law, Newark, New Jersey, has gone public with her misgivings at the CCR's decision, reflecting a debate within human rights groups on how to deal with Islamist fundamentalists.

"I support the important work the centre has done on torture and extraordinary rendition," said Bennoune, "but I expressed grave concern at CCR offering to represent Awlaki's interests pro bono. Anwar al-Awlaki is not a detainee; he is still at liberty and able to gravely harm others by inciting and advocating murder."

Bennoune pointed out that Awlaki published an article in al-Qaida's English language magazine, Inspire, in July openly calling for assassinations of several people, including a young woman cartoonist in Seattle and Salman Rushdie. This was at around the time the CCR was offering to represent Awlaki's father, she said.

Bennoune, who is of Algerian descent, also expressed fears that the CCR and the ACLU were in danger of "sanitising" Awlaki to western audiences.

"Since the inception of the case," she said, "there has been increased mystification of who Anwar al-Awlaki is in liberal and human rights circles in the United States. This may in part have resulted from the fact that a highly reputable organisation like CCR was willing to represent his interests, and described him only as 'a Muslim cleric' or 'an American citizen', and repeatedly suggested that the government did not possess evidence against Awlaki."

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