I’m not going to cry bitter tears over Anwar Al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, American citizens whose assassinations were engineered by the United States government yesterday, but I may shed a few for the Constitution that their killers were sworn to uphold. Al-Awlaki was a Phoenix-born jihadi propagandist who produced anti-American and anti-Western video lectures and sermons for rebroadcast on the web. Samir Khan was a 25 year-old North Carolinian who just last year started a English-language jihadist magazine titled “Inspire.” Khan’s stated publishing goal was to recruit young Muslims to take up arms against the West and specifically the United States.
But it should be noted that neither Al-Awlaki or Khan had renounced his American citizenship. Neither had been tried and convicted of any crime. No attempt had been made to arrest and charge them under US law. There is no evidence that they had directly engaged in armed attacks on the United States or Americans abroad, or that they were conspiring with others to commit specific attacks against the United States or Americans abroad. And the only proof that Al-Awlaki had any hand in the operational planning of terrorist attacks amounts to this: the CIA says so. It was a claim the Agency never even bothered to make against Samir Khan.
So meager, in fact, is the evidence against Al-Awlaki that news outlets reporting his assassination today are at a bit of a loss: CBS News calls him a “U.S.-born cleric suspected of inspiring or helping plan numerous attacks on the United States.” CNN describes him as one “whose fluency in English and technology made him one of the top terrorist recruiters in the world.” Fox News says he was an “ideological leader.” And according to the New York Times, “His Internet lectures and sermons were linked to more than a dozen terrorist investigations in the United States, Britain and Canada. Get that: his lectures and sermons were linked to investigations. And for this American citizen was executed by drone on the expressed, personal instructions of Barack Obama, without formal charge and without trial.