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Assassinating Children

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Abdulrahman al-Awlakiby Jacob G. Hornberger

The extraordinary power of the U.S. government to assassinate people has, once again, been manifested in the assassination of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. No, that’s not Anwar al-Awlaki, the American Muslim cleric whom U.S. officials recently assassinated in Yemen. That’s Abdulrahm al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old son of Anwar al-Awlaki.

There are several things that are especially fascinating about the U.S. government’s assassination of this American teenager, who apparently traveled to Yemen looking for his father before his father was assassinated:

First, the U.S. government has assassinated a minor.

Second, no one except the assassins knows why they assassinated the boy.

Third, the people who planned and carried out the assassination — from President Obama, to the Pentagon, to the CIA — aren’t talking.

Fourth, nobody can force them to explain why they killed the boy.

The assassination of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki reveals in stark clarity where the U.S. government’s imperialist foreign policy and resulting war on terrorism have brought us as nation and as a people. We now live in a country in which the president and his military and paramilitary forces now wield the omnipotent authority to assassinate anyone they want, anywhere in the world, with impunity and without having to provide an explanation to anyone.

In a news story on the assassination of the boy, Time magazine cites a young friend of Abdulrahman asking, “Who can’t America kill?”

Indeed! The fact, as discomforting as it might be, is that the president, the military, and the CIA can now kill anyone they want for whatever reason they want, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. The assassination of 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki confirms the extent of this extraordinary post-9/11 power now wielded by the U.S. national-security state.

It’s never been made clear the precise reasons for the assassination of the boy’s father, Anwar al-Awlaki. Some people speculate that it’s because he was exhorting Muslims to resist U.S. imperialist policies with violence. Others speculate that it was because he was actually conspiring to commit terrorist attacks against the United States. Others suggest that it was because he was purportedly a member of al-Qaeda. Others say it was because he was committing treason.

Neither President Obama, nor the Pentagon, nor the CIA have ever provided an explanation for the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, confirming, once again, that we now live in a country where government officials can assassinate anyone they want, foreigners and Americans alike, with impunity.

Why assassinate the 16-year old boy?

Was he supposedly doing what his father was doing? Was he allegedly exhorting Muslims to resist U.S. imperialism with force? Was he allegedly conspiring to commit terrorist attacks himself? Was he supposed to be a member of al-Qaeda?

We don’t know. The only people who know are President Obama, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the CIA and, again, they’re not talking and, under the war on terrorism, are apparently not required to talk.

According to that Time magazine article, some unidentified U.S. official is quoted as saying that Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” — collateral damage in the assassination of an al-Qaeda terrorist who was killed as part of the same strike.

One problem, of course, is that that information might well be false, especially since it’s not under oath and comes from an unidentified official. Thus, the information is worthless insofar as understanding why the assassins ended the child’s life. Another problem is that even if the claim was true, an obvious question arises: Did the assassins know that 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was present and, therefore, would likely be killed in the attack?

Perhaps I should mention that Abdulrahman al-Awlaki wasn’t the only teenager assassinated in the attack. Also assassinated were his teenage cousin and six other people with whom he was having dinner. Were they also alleged to have been terrorists? Again, we just don’t know. The president, the Pentagon, and the CIA just aren’t talking and apparently don’t have to.

Did the U.S government assassinate Abdulrahman al-Awlaki because he was the son of an alleged terrorist? Did they assassinate him to send a message to other would-be terrorists — that this is what will happen to your children (or other relatives) if you oppose the U.S. Empire? Did they assassinate him to preclude the possibility of his growing up with a thirst for vengeance and retaliation arising out of the assassination of his father?

We just don’t know. I think the idea is that while the government is disappearing people from life through assassination, we, the citizenry, are expected to not dwell on such things and instead to simply continue going about our daily lives with the understanding that the government is doing what is necessary to keep us safe.

But one thing is for sure: The assassination of 16-year-old American Abdulrahman al-Awlaki confirms, once again, that we now live in a country whose government has the unfettered authority to assassinate anyone it wants, adult or minor, foreigner or American, and remain mute about it.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.


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