Who is a Combatant, and Does American Citizenship Matter?
By Harold Hutchison
The takedown of Anwar al-Awlaki was seen by many as a huge win in the War on Terror. That said, it also generated a great deal of controversy. Why? Because al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico – making him an American citizen under the provisions of the 14th Amendment.
It leads to the question – could Jane Fonda have been an enemy combatant and targeted by a Hellfire from a Predator drone? Let’s just put the citizenship aside. When she sat in the seat of that North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, she placed herself on a legitimate military target. The term for someone sitting in a place where the crew of an anti-aircraft gun normally would sit that gets killed or wounded if said gun is hit is called collateral damage.
Moving that aside, was al-Awlaki a combatant, or was he something else? If he was something else, was he still a legitimate target? To answer those questions, it just takes a look at the not-too-distant history. Twice during the Obama Administration, al-Awlaki was involved in significant terrorist attacks.
Prior to the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 by Umar Abdulmuttalab on 25 December, 2009, and the 5 November, 2009 shooting at Fort Hood carried out by Nidal Hasan, al-Awlaki either met, or was in communication with the individuals who carried out the attacks. At the very least, he was recruiting combatants – and these were combatants who were raised with at least a somewhat Westernized outlook – in addition to his propaganda videos.
The accused shooter at Fort Hood, which has been mislabeled “workplace violence” by the Obama Administration, exchanged e-mails with al-Awlaki, and had ties going back years before, when the radical cleric conducted the funeral of a family member. In this case, al-Awlaki at a minimum, recruited and radicalized the shooter. The case of the “underwear bomber” is even more clear. In this case, al-Awlaki viewed the Adbulmutallab as a student. Again, al-Awlaki was recruiting and further radicalizing someone who went on to carry out a terrorist attack.
Anwar al-Awlaki wasn’t bearing a rifle or sitting in an anti-aircraft gun. but he was a combatant nonetheless. His weapons were the people he radicalized. There is no two ways about it- al-Awlaki was a combatant waging war against the United States. As such, when the CIA took him out with Hellfire missiles from a Predator drone, they were shooting at a legitimate military target.
The fact that Samir Khan, the editor of Inspire magazine, and also an American citizen, also died is really immaterial. He just happened to be sitting too close to al-Awlaki when the Hellfire missiles hit. But even on his own, he was a legitimate military target. The magazine is considered to be a tool for al-Qaeda to recruit American and British Moslems to be home-grown terrorists. One such tool was a 16-page manual for wannabe murder-suicide bombers called “Expectations Full.”
Again, Samir Khan was not carrying a rifle or serving as a crewmember in an armored vehicle. But he was reaching out to create those who would carry the rifles, and inspire them to come to be further radicalized by someone like al-Awlaki. The fact that he was an American citizen is irrelevant.
The legal doctrines being pushed by Rand Paul and others pose a potential threat to our ability to protect ourselves. Already, during the war on terror, we have seen efforts to wage lawfare against the United States. Al-Awlaki’s family sued over the “capture or kill order” with the aid of the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights. Thankfully, the suit was dismissed on 7 December, 2010. In the ruling by U.S. District Judge John Bates, the lack of standing by Awlaki’s father was cited, as was the “political question” doctrine.
The fact is, in the War on Terror, combatants don’t just carry rifles. In some cases, they were merely the propagandists who were using the Internet and other methods to radicalize waves of home-grown terrorists. They were legitimate military targets – no matter where they are.