Ron Paul Condemns U.S. 'Assassination' of al-Awlaki; Perry, Romney Praise Obama

Republican presidential candidates differ on the killing of the American-born radical cleric in Yemen

Updated 1:33 p.m.

Libertarian Texas Rep. Ron Paul condemned the Obama administration for killing an American-born al-Qaeda leader in Yemen, while Texas Governor Rick Perry had some rare kind words for the commander in chief following the successful drone strike Friday morning that killed radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and several others.

"The death of Awlaki is a major blow to al-Qaeda's most active operational affiliate," Obama said in remarks at Fort Myer in Virginia Friday morning.

But Paul, who has urged the U.S. to leave Iraq and Afghanistan, this morning in New Hampshire blasted the killing as an "assassination," the Associated Press reports, and warned American leaders against "assassinating American citizens without charges."

Awlaki was born in New Mexico and was a joint U.S.-Yemeni citizen. Also killed in the attack was Samir Khan, co-editor of al-Qaeda's jihadi magazine Inspire, The Washington Post reports.

"Nobody knows if he ever killed anybody," Paul said, according to the Wall Street Journal. "If the American people accept this blindly and casually...I think that's sad."

Perry had a different view, and one more in sync with the rest of the GOP field's stance on the targeted killings of terrorists, even ones who are American citizens.

"I want to congratulate the United States military and intelligence communities -- and President Obama for sticking with the government's longstanding and aggressive anti-terror policies -- for getting another key international terrorist," he said in a statement.

"The death of American-raised al Qaida leader Anwar al-Awlaki is an important victory in the war on terror," he added.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney had similar sentiments, calling the killing of al-Awlaki "a major victory in our fight against Islamist terrorism and proper justice for the numerous attacks and plots he inspired or planned against America."

"I commend the President, the members of the intelligence community, our service members, and our allies for their continued efforts to keep Americans safe," he said.

But libertarian GOP presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former governor of al-Awlaki's birth state, also raised doubt about the killing.

"I understand that laws may allow these decisions by the President and other officials in regard to al-Awlaki, and I do not in any way want to diminish the skill and dedication of our CIA and military. But, at the same time, it must not be overlooked -- and thoughtfully examined -- that our government targeted a U.S. citizen for death, and carried out that sentence on foreign soil. To my knowledge, that is a first, and a precedent that raises serious questions," he said in a statement.

"If we allow our fervor to eliminate terrorist threats to cause us to cut corners with the Constitution and the fundamental rights of American citizens, whether it be invasions of privacy or the killing of someone born on U.S. soil, I could argue that the terrorists will have ultimately won.

"The world is very likely a better place without al-Awlaki in it, but let us not neglect to ask the tough questions this attack raises and about the laws that allowed it to be carried out," he said.

It's a debate that seems certain to continue at the next GOP presidential primary debate, to be held in Hanover, N.H., on Oct. 11.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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