The U.S. May Be Planning to Kill Another U.S. Citizen Abroad

How It Works
Feb. 10 2014 12:03 PM

The U.S. May Be Planning to Kill Another U.S. Citizen Abroad

1597241-the-mq-predator-drone-or-unmanned-aerial-vehicle-is-shown
The MQ Predator drone is shown in this undated handout photo from the aircraft's manufacturer, General Atomics.

Photo by General Atomics/Getty Images

“U.S. officials” have told Kimberly Dozier of the Associated Press that the Obama administration is wrestling with a decision over whether to kill a U.S. citizen who is a member of al-Qaida and is reportedly actively planning attacks against U.S. citizens abroad.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

The individual is apparently in a country that refuses U.S. military action on its soil. Things have been further complicated in this case by the fact that under the new U.S. drone policy announced last year, terrorist suspects overseas can only be killed by the military rather than the CIA., but the Pentagon is apparently not sure whether killing him is worth it:

Two of the officials described the man as an al-Qaida facilitator who has been directly responsible for deadly attacks against U.S. citizens overseas and who continues to plan attacks against them that would use improvised explosive devices.
But one U.S. official said the Defense Department was divided over whether the man is dangerous enough to merit the potential domestic fallout of killing an American without charging him with a crime or trying him, and the potential international fallout of such an operation in a country that has been resistant to U.S. action.
Advertisement

Dozier writes that the Justice Department is “working to build a case for the president to review and decide the man's fate.” The case is reminiscent of that of Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico-born al-Qaida cleric who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2009. The legal procedure in this case is apparently the same as the one used to decide to kill Awlaki, which will not exactly placate critics who have held up the extrajudicial killing of a U.S. citizen as proof that the U.S. drone program is essentially lawless.

President Obama justified the Awlaki strike in a speech last May:

For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen — with a drone, or with a shotgun — without due process, nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.
But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens, and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team.
That’s who Anwar Awlaki was — he was continuously trying to kill people.  He helped oversee the 2010 plot to detonate explosive devices on two U.S.-bound cargo planes.  He was involved in planning to blow up an airliner in 2009.  When Farouk Abdulmutallab — the Christmas Day bomber — went to Yemen in 2009, Awlaki hosted him, approved his suicide operation, helped him tape a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack, and his last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil.  I would have detained and prosecuted Awlaki if we captured him before he carried out a plot, but we couldn’t.  And as President, I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took him out.

Of course, what’s particularly odd about this case is that it’s being publicly discussed now. I can’t recall another case of the public being informed of a possible drone strike in advance, even with the specific name and country kept confidential. Any al-Qaida members with U.S. passports—who frankly probably assumed they were already on the target list—are probably hunkering down now.

Will this affect public opinion about the strike? Americans are generally supportive of the U.S. drone policy, though far more uneasy about the idea of targeting U.S. citizens. I’m guessing that many of the 52 percent who oppose such strikes in general might feel differently when told that the person in question is “actively planning attacks.”

On the other hand, the fact that even a number of Pentagon officials aren't convinced that this guy is dangerous enough to warrant a strike is not exactly reassuring.   

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.