The legal implications of the al-Awlaki assassination

By Tom Carter – World Socialist News Network
10 October 2011
Posted by Olivia LaRosa

In September 30, 2011, the Obama administration, through its military and intelligence apparatus, assassinated US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.
The purpose of this essay is to analyze the legal implications of the assertion by the Obama administration of the power to assassinate US citizens anywhere in the world.
From the standpoint of US and international law as it has developed historically, the killing of al-Awlaki is entirely illegal. Extrajudicial executions violate nearly every fundamental democratic legal protection.

At the request of the Obama administration, a lawsuit filed on al-Awlaki’s behalf was thrown out of US courts in September of last year on the basis of authoritarian precepts far exceeding any precedent in the country’s history. The decision in that case, left undisturbed, clears the way for the extrajudicial liquidation of opponents of the US government and, ultimately, for presidential dictatorship.


Anwar bin Nasser bin Abdulla al-Awlaki was born on April 21, 1971 in Las Cruces, New Mexico in the US. He maintained dual citizenship in the US and Yemen.

Conflicting accounts are given of al-Awlaki’s personal and political history. On the one hand, the US government alleges that he was a “senior recruiter for Al Qaeda” who was “directly involved” in various violent acts over the past two decades, including the Fort Hood shootings, the attempted Christmas Day “underwear bombing,” and others.

On the other hand, Al-Awlaki presented himself as an unaffiliated religious scholar who, while advocating “jihad against the West,” claimed never to have participated in or advocated terrorism. Ultimately, no allegation against al-Awlaki was ever tested or proven in court.

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