Answers For Glenn Greenwald; Yes, We Are At War


[Re-posted from yesterday]

Let me restrict myself to Glenn's direct questions on the al-Awlaki case because I think they largely address the points of many others as well.

1. I wrote

But a single American al Qaeda terrorist in a foreign country actively waging war against us seems to me to be a pretty isolated example.

Glenn responds that Awlaki is most certainly not a singular case, and that there are three others whose identity we do not know. Not to nit-pick, but in a global war now almost a decade old, with thousands of casualties, four individuals is not a massive number. Now, I concede that even one could be a precedent that could enable the killing of countless, and on this Glenn has a point ... which leads me to the second response.

2. Glenn asks

Could Andrew please explain how he knows that Awlaki is an "al Qaeda terrorist"?  Being an "al Qaeda terrorist" is a crime with which many people have been charged and convicted.  But Awlaki never has been.

There is much public information about Awlaki, and I urge readers to go to Wiki and examine the public record and sources in detail to make their own minds up. Witnesses report he was a spiritual adviser to and met with two 9/11 mass-murderers, Nawaf Al-Hazmi and Khalid Almihdhar; his personal phone number was found in the Hamburg apartment of the 20th 9/11 terrorist; in 2006, he was arrested by Yemeni authorities for being part of an al Qaeda plot to kidnap a US military attache; his name was on a list of prisoners that al Qaeda affiliates sought to be released in Yemen; in December 2008, al-Awlaki sent a communique to the Somalian terrorist group Al-Shabaab, thanking them for "giving us a living example of how we as Muslims should proceed to change our situation. The ballot has failed us, but the bullet has not ... if my circumstances would have allowed, I would not have hesitated in joining you and being a soldier in your ranks." He sent a message in March of this year, urging treason and murder of Americans by American-Muslims:

To the Muslims in America, I have this to say: How can your conscience allow you to live in peaceful coexistence with a nation that is responsible for the tyranny and crimes committed against your own brothers and sisters? I eventually came to the conclusion that jihad (holy struggle) against America is binding upon myself just as it is binding upon every other able Muslim.

This year, he has directly threatened several writers, journalists, cartoonists with death, one of them in an al Qaeda magazine, Inspire. From Wiki:

Al-Awlaki's name came up in a dozen terrorism plots in the U.S., UK, and Canada. The cases included suicide bombers in the 2005 London bombings, radical Islamic terrorists in the 2006 Toronto terrorism case, radical Islamic terrorists in the 2007 Fort Dix attack plot, and Faisal Shahzad, charged in the 2010 Times Square attempted bombing. In each case the suspects were devoted to al-Awlaki's message, which they listened to on laptops, audio clips, and CDs.

Independent news reports have directly connected Awlaki to meeting with and inspiring the Christmas day underpants bomber. The undie bomber "told the FBI [not under Bush-style torture] that al-Awlaki was one of his al-Qaeda trainers in remote camps in Yemen. And there were confirming 'informed reports' that Abdulmutallab met with al-Awlaki during his final weeks of training and indoctrination prior to the attack... In January 2010, al-Awlaki acknowledged that he met and spoke with Abdulmutallab in Yemen in the fall of 2009. In an interview, al-Awlaki said: 'Umar Farouk is one of my students; I had communications with him. And I support what he did.'" More recently, a Seattle cartoonist, Molly Norris, has had to go into hiding because of a direct threat to her life from Awlaki.

I could go on. But seriously, is Glenn honestly saying that a man who has commited treason, has had multiple direct contacts with al Qaeda, including the 9/11 mass-murderers, has been directly connected with inciting American citizens to kill others in terror attacks is not, self-evidently, an al Qaeda terrorist who poses a direct and imminent threat to innocent human beings, motivated by a poisonous religious ideology that was responsible for the murder of 3,000 people on 9/11? Is he really trying to say that despite all this public evidence, and with this record of terror attacks, we need a full civil trial - even if we were able to capture him - to know that this individual is at war with his own country and a direct threat to all of us?

3. Glenn asks:

Are we "at war" on the entire planet -- the centerpiece of the Bush/Cheney assertion of radical powers -- or are there physical limits to where the President's war powers apply, i.e., where the "battlefield" is?  If we're "at war" anywhere and everywhere Terrorists are found, does that apply to U.S. soil?

No it doesn't.

The CIA and the military have not been authorized to kill any US citizens on American soil. But it is utterly uncontroversial that the military can kill a US citizen abroad if he is waging a treasonous war against the United States (see: Ex parte Quirin [1942]). Obama, moreover, has specifically rejected the dictatorial "enemy combatant" powers asserted by Bush and Bush alone, and expanded judicial review of this kind of military action, hence the lawsuit currently being filed by Awlaki's father. Hence also the narrow decision in Jeppesen in which a court - yes, a court - declared:

We take very seriously our obligation to review the government’s claims with a very careful, indeed a skeptical, eye, and not to accept at face value the government’s claim or justification of privilege.


We have thoroughly and critically reviewed the government’s public and classified declarations and are convinced that at least some of the matters it seeks to protect from disclosure in this litigation are valid state secrets, "which, in the interest of national security, should not be divulged." Reynolds, 345 U.S. at 10. The government’s classified disclosures to the court are persuasive that compelled or inadvertent disclosure of such information in the course of litigation would seriously harm legitimate national security interests.

That could not have happened under Bush and I am sick of the left treating Obama as if he has done nothing to change the dictatorial, illegal and indecent policies of his predecessor. God knows I think Obama has gone too far in invoking state secrets in the Jeppesen case and in "moving on" from prosecuting war crimes, but the left really does need to get real about the world we actually live in and the threats we actually face. And they need to remind people more and more of the critical, vital thing Obama has done: he has ended the torture that allowed Bush and Cheney to coerce evidence to justify anything they wanted to do to anyone. And yes, a war crime is worse, in my book, and under the law, than war itself. Torturing someone already held captive is infinitely worse than killing an enemy trying to kill you on the battlefield. Anyone with any knowledge of just war theory would tell you that.

4. As I said in my first post, I agree that the Obama administration's decision to shut down inspection of the evidence behind the decision to regard Awlaki as someone waging an active war against the US under "state secrets" is a step way too far. I think the president has a duty to explain in court why he believes this person must be treated as an active enemy at war with the US, and therefore treated as all such enemies in wartime as someone to be killed. Instead, they have told us much in the press, but not backed it up in court. I strongly disagree with this, and think reiterating in court what is already in the public domain could help, not hurt them. I will gladly join with Glenn and everyone else in this in demanding this invocation of state secrets end. I regard it as a core betrayal of Obama's campaign, just as I believe his refusal even to give torture victims a day in court on the same grounds is a war crime itself.

But I do not believe, as Glenn does, that we are not at war with a vile, theocratic, murderous organization that would destroy this country and any of its enemies if it got the chance. I believe it would use WMDs if it could get its hands on them. I believe the thousands of innocents - mainly Muslims but also Western non-Muslims - whom this terror machine has murdered make the idea that this is not a war a ludicrous, irresponsible and reality-divorced claim that I have never shared. And I believe it is the duty of the commander in chief to kill as many of these people actively engaged in trying to kill us as possible and as accurately as possible. I have a very strong record against war crimes of any sort by any country. But I am not a pacifist.

Look: I know that the asymmetric way that this war is being conducted against us raises very difficult questions. This is not a traditional battlefield, with uniforms and set battles. We have to be very careful that we do not embolden Jihadism by over-reaction, or futile attempts at counter-insurgencies which cannot work, let alone the brutality and war crimes of the last administration. But the point of targeting key agents of al Qaeda for killing is precisely to fight a war as surgically and as morally as we can, when in remote areas the chance of actually capturing or finding the enemy is impossible. But treating this whole situation as if it were a civil case in a US city is not taking the threat seriously.

And so the inclusion of Awlaki as an enemy is not an "execution", or an "assassination", as some of my libertarian friends hyperbolize. It is a legitimate and just act of war against a dangerous traitor at war with us and enjoing others to commit war. There is no "due process" in wartime. We have to make as sure as we can in this new and shadowy war that we do not kill innocents, in so far as that is humanly possible. We should prosecute and punish all war crimes. We can debate strategy and tactics. But we ignore these theocratic mass murderers at our peril. And we have every right, indeed a duty, to kill them after they have killed us by the thousands and before they kill us again.

(Photo: A man stands in the rubble, and calls out asking if anyone needs help, after the collapse of the first World Trade Center Tower 11 September, 2001, in New York. Two hijacked planes crashed into the twin towers causing the collapse of both. By Doug Kanter/AFP/Getty Images.)