Here's what you think you know:
Anwar al-Awlaki was an American civil engineer who became an Imam, an Al Qaeda propagandist, an associate of terrorists (including the 9/11 attackers and the underwear bomber), and an alleged operational agent of the world's most notorious terror organization. Despite his American citizenship, Awlaki made this administration's "kill" list; a drone took him out in Yemen in September, 2011. Two weeks later, his 16 year old son (also an American) was also killed by a drone.
Or so we have been told. Is it possible that what you think you know just ain't so?
Family members and the ACLU have asked, under FOIA, to see the legal basis for these targeted killings. Unsurprisingly, New York Southern District Court Judge Colleen McMahon issued a ruling denying
the ACLU's "facially overbroad" request. McMahon admitted that the government's targeted killings "seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution."
Part of McMahon's ruling seems like it could have been written by a progressive blogger:
The Administration has engaged in public discussion of the legality of targeted killing, even of citizens, but in cryptic and imprecise ways, generally without citing any statute of court decision that justifies its conclusions. More fulsome disclosure of the legal reasoning on which the Administration relies to justify the targeted killing of individuals, including United States citizens, far from an recognizable "hot" field of battle, would allow for intelligent discussion and assessment of a tactic that (like torture before it) remains hotly debated. It might also help the public understand the scope of the ill-defined yet vast and seemingly ever-growing exercise in...
(The rest of the line went missing when the document was uploaded. Damn.)
“However, this court is constrained by law, and under the law, I can only conclude that the government has not violated FOIA by refusing to turn over the documents, and so cannot be compelled by this court of law to explain in detail the reasons why its actions do not violate the Constitution and laws of the United States. The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me.”
Well, as long as the judge can offer up literary allusions, I suppose we can tolerate her inability to deliver justice.
noticed something odd about this ruling (in a footnote on page 4): The judge ran her unclassified statement past the FBI
just to give the Bureau a chance to see if she had accidentally spilled any beans about classified matters. Why is this odd? Because, as far as we know, the FBI played no role in the Awlaki case.
Now in my
day, by cracky, the gubmint couldn't refuse FOIA information without listing one of the ten reasons for exemption given here
(subsection B). It worked like this: You asked for a document under FOIA, and the gubmint would send you some pages filled with big black redaction marks. Each mark would have a handwritten label noting the specific exemption -- b3, b6, whatever.
Things are different now. A judge may offer a blanket denial -- "No soup for you!"
-- and that's that.
This particular bowl of soup may contain a surprise ingredient.
A few bold theorists, including yours truly, have suggested that al-Awlaki
was, as cold war spies used to say, nash
. ("Nash" was KGB-speak for "ours.") In other words: I think this guy was always one of our own agents
, operating under ultra-deep cover.
His targeted killing -- and the drone-death of his 16 year old son (who otherwise would hardly seem to be worth the effort) -- might have been staged. Perhaps father and son were not killed. Perhaps they were extracted and reassigned, or allowed to retire.
Awlaki, who once had a massive internet presence (including lots of YouTube videos), rose to a position of prominence within Al Qaeda even though Bin Laden reportedly didn't like him. From Wikipedia
Some Muslim scholars said they did not understand al‑Awlaki's popularity, because while he spoke fluent English and could therefore reach a large non-Arabic-speaking audience, he lacked formal Islamic training and study.
He was born in New Mexico in 1971, yet later claimed to have been a native Yemeni. This summary of his academic years allows for more than one interpretation:
In 1991 Al-Aulaqi returned to the U.S state of Colorado to attend college. He earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University (1994), where he was president of the Muslim Student Association. He attended the university on a foreign student visa and a government scholarship from Yemen, apparently by claiming to be born in that country, according to a former U.S. security agent. He spent a summer of his college years training with the Afghan mujahideen.
Al-Aulaqi also studied Education Leadership at San Diego State University, though he never completed his degree there. He worked on a Doctorate degree in Human Resource Development at George Washington University Graduate School of Education & Human Development from January to December 2001.
George Washington University has longstanding CIA ties
. The stint with the mujahadeen -- at a time when they were working with the CIA -- is certainly suggestive.
After the 9/11 attacks, Awlaki was interviewed by the FBI due to his undeniable ties to three of the hijackers. Nevertheless, on February 5, 2002, al-Awlaki was invited to speak at a formal Pentagon lunch
Who invited him? Who cleared him? Those questions have never been properly answered. More disturbingly: Why has the western press been so reticent to discuss Awlaki's Pentagon ties?
In late 2011, this comment
on a right-wing site raised a few good questions:
However the more I read about the deeds of this guy, the more I become sure that something is not at all right. His terrorist accomplishments seem to be taking responsibility for talking a moron into placing explosives in his underwear that did not blow up but rather burned family jewels. the next thing mentioned is being responsible for two copy machines being shipped by plane that failed to explode and were discovered long before they got anywhere near the United States and injured no one. The third things is that a muslim soldier listened to his preaching and shot a lot of other soldiers at fort Hood... seems Al-awlaki inspired the act but no proof that I have heard that he even knew it was going to happen.
Seems to me that this cleric was a total screw up and not much a danger but given lots of publicity which seemed to be his claim to fame.
...if he was as the press suggests then he got exactly what he had coming, but if he was a deep cover agent sent to get close the real terrorists in the middle east and made famous by press releases from the government for failed terrorist attempts .. then killed for political points to make Obama seem to be an effective terrorist hunter ..well then something is very wrong.
I would disagree with the "effective terrorist hunter" bit. Since Yemen is off-limits to any independent investigators, we really don't know what
happened there. We can't be positive that the man is dead. The only evidence we have are statements from the governments of Yemen and the United States.
But we do know that the drone killings created image problems for Obama, at least among his liberal supporters. (His conservative enemies will always oppose him no matter what
It's worth noting that al-Awlaki died once before -- in a 2009 drone attack. He got better.
I've written about the Awlaki-as-"nash" theory before
. If you re-read that post, you may be able to come up with a plausible answer to Marcy's question: Why was that judge so concerned with running her statement past the FBI, even though the FBI was not party to the case?
There are plenty of indicators that the FBI ran Awlaki during his time in this country...
Given his clear connections to the San Diego team members, you would presume that Al-Awlaki would have scooted out of the country -- as he had announced he would do. But no. Naturally, he was interviewed by the FBI after the terror attack. And with unnatural ease, he sailed right through their questioning -- even though he clearly seems to have lied about his relationship with the hijackers, since his story contradicted the evidence of his cell phone records.
(Wasn't Martha Stewart forced to do jail time for lying to investigators about a much less important matter?)
After all of this, the guy was busted for soliciting prostitutes in 2002 -- his second bust on that charge. He seems to have been able to make the problem go away with surprising ease. That became a pattern. When it came to potential legal problems, this man always seemed to have the protection of a Holy Guardian Angel:
His name came up in the abortive Operation Green Quest investigation. He was placed on the terrorist watch list. Shortly after that, a judge issued a warrant for his arrest on a charge of passport fraud.
In October of 2002, the warrant was rescinded and the criminal case was dropped. He was allowed to fly into the U.S on October 10, 2002. Customs detained him until the FBI told Customs that al-Awlaki was taken off the watch list just the day before.
History Commons draws the following info from a 2004 U.S. News and World Report story:
Al-Awlaki then leaves the US again. The FBI will later admit they were “very interested” in al-Awlaki and yet failed to stop him from leaving the country. One FBI source says, “We don’t know how he got out.”
The pattern is unmistakable: The FBI told everyone that they were "very interested" in the man -- but only when he was out of the country. If they were so desperate to talk to him again, why didn't they pay him a visit when Customs had detained him at the airport?
Dec. 18, 2003: British MP Louise Ellman tells House of Commons calls Muslim Association of Britain is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood; says Awlaki “is reportedly wanted for questioning by the FBI in connection with the 9/11 al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.”
Yeah. Funny thing about that, Louise: The FBI did question him twice, both before and after he 9/11 attacks. They let him go, despite clear evidence of his involvement. And they let him fly in and out of the country, even though lots of innocent people (lefties, mostly) were put on the "no fly" list during this same period.
You want more evidence? Then consider this: The Australian -- a prominent Murdoch-owned newspaper down under -- once strongly implied that Awlaki was working for U.S and/or Yemeni intelligence
In 2006, he used the name Abu Atiq. Under that name, he was part of a gun running ring in Yemen. He was scooped up by Yemeni authorities and placed in prison just a short while before a huge raid took out the entire ring. The news account says that "Abu" was the "key" to the raid. Translation: He blabbed. He (allegedly) stayed in prison for 18 months, segregated from everyone else, and then was let loose.
My primary reasons for continuing to think that Awlaki was nash
may strike you as subtle, but I nevertheless would ask you to mull them over.
In all of the recent press reportage, there is no mention of the troubling history outlined above (and in our previous post). No mention of his 2002 chumminess with the Pentagon. No mention of the FBI's bizarre "catch and release" pattern. No mention of his "angelic" protection when it came to his many legal problems. No mention of his "Abu Atiq" escapade, in which he ratted out his colleagues. No mention of his ties to "terrorist cells" that were clearly creations of the FBI itself. No mention of Bin Laden's mistrust.
Think about it: What other reason can there be for Barack Obama to order the drone killing of a 16 year old American boy?
It's very possible that neither father nor son truly died. They may be living elsewhere, under assumed identities.
If Awlaki was always a penetration agent, and if he really is alive right now, would he be cold-hearted enough to allow his father to think him dead? As a very roundabout way of answering that question, I may one day write a long post about a couple of mystery men from days of yore: Richard Colvin Cox and Michael Valentich.
You may want to look 'em up.
(I will publish no comments touching on the usual 9/11 conspiracy theories. Sorry. But if that door cracks open even a tiny amount, all sorts of rats will clamber aboard the good ship Cannonfire.)