March 15, 2011
Why Isn't Awlaki on the Most Wanted List?
You might think that a top terrorist targeted for assassination by the Obama administration would be on the FBI's list of "Most Wanted Terrorists." You might think he would be under indictment by the Department of Justice, which has a penchant for prosecuting war criminals in civil court. But in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), you'd be wrong.
United States counterterrorism officials agree that Awlaki, a dual U.S.-Yemeni citizen, is one of the world's most dangerous terrorists. Attorney General Eric Holder says Awlaki is right up there with Osama bin Laden.
It was reported in April 2010 that the Obama administration has targeted Awlaki for killing or capture because he has become directly involved in terrorist plots against the United States.
According to an interview with Holder reported by ABC News on Dec. 21, 2010 and by Homeland Security Newswire:
"He would be on the same list with bin Laden," Holder said of Al Awlaki. "He's up there. I don't know whether he's one, two, three, four -- I don't know. But he's certainly on the list of the people who worry me the most."As a U.S. citizen, Holder said, Awlaki possesses a degree of familiarity with American culture that most foreign terrorists lack. And he has been a common link, Holder says, among many American-bred converts to al Qaeda-tied groups."He's an extremely dangerous man," Holder said. "He has shown a desire to harm the United States, a desire to strike the homeland of the United States... He is a person who as an American citizen - is familiar with this country and he brings a dimension, because of that American familiarity, that others do not."When asked whether the United States has a preference between killing or capturing and prosecuting Awlaki, Holder replied: "Well, we certainly want to neutralize him. And we will do whatever we can in order to do that."
Awlaki is believed to have connections to: 9/11 terrorists; Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, charged with the massacre of soldiers at Fort Hood, Tex., Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the alleged "Christmas Day underwear bomber;" Faisal Shahzad, accused of trying to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in 2010; and plotting an attack against British Airways in 2010.
The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center director, Michael Leiter, told Rep. Peter King's House Committee on Homeland Security on Feb. 9, 2011, that Awlaki "played a significant role" in the Christmas 2009 bombing attempt on a Delta airliner.
Stuart Levey, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, in a press release dated July 16, 2010, accused Awlaki of engaging in terrorism:
"Anwar al-Aulaqi has proven that he is extraordinarily dangerous, committed to carrying out deadly attacks on Americans and others worldwide. ... He has involved himself in every aspect of the supply chain of terrorism -- fundraising for terrorist groups, recruiting and training operatives, and planning and ordering attacks on innocents."
So why isn't a "specially designated global terrorist" who "has involved himself in every aspect of the supply chain of terrorism" on the FBI's list of "Most Wanted Terrorists" or on its "Seeking Terror Information" list?
If it's true that the FBI, as Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) relates, "ordered Awlaki released from detention at Kennedy Airport in October 2002, allowing him to re-enter the United States despite an outstanding warrant for his arrest," why was he released? Inquiring minds such as Rep. Wolf would like some answers. Was it because Awlaki was a lunch guest at the Pentagon within months of the 9/11 attacks as Fox News reported?
Despite the hysterical absurdities hurled at Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee (R-New York), for conducting a hearing last Thursday on the radicalization of Americans by Al Qaeda and its Islamist affiliates in the United States, King says he plans to hold more hearings.
The witness lineup should include FBI Director Robert Mueller explaining, among other things, why Awlaki hasn't made Mueller's Most Wanted list.
And who doesn't want to hear Holder explain how ordering a hit on an American citizen, without so much as a Miranda warning, fits within a "legal regime ... consistent with our values and our Constitution" that the President claims to uphold? Recall his terrorists-are-people-too speech at the National Archives.
Since Obama has approved killing Awlaki, may we assume that "enhanced interrogation" is back on the table if they take Awlaki alive?
The mere thought of having to explain all of it is probably what's keeping Holder up at night.
Jan LaRue is senior legal analyst with the American Civil Rights Union.