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Al-Awlaki killing had to be done

John Sandberg | Monday, October 3, 2011

Last Friday, Sept. 30, U.S.-born terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in an American counterterrorism operation in Yemen. Al-Awlaki, who maintained U.S. citizenship, was a key player in al-Qaeda’s effort against the United States and, according to U.S. officials, was instrumental in the planning of multiple attempted terrorist attacks on American soil.

While the elimination of this individual undoubtedly disrupts al-Qaeda’s “murderous agenda,” as President Obama described it, critics have begun to speak out against the mission. Many have highlighted the controversy of this issue as it pertains to the Constitution and human rights, claiming that al-Awlaki’s status as a U.S. citizen afforded him the right of a criminal trial. Others have stated in recent days that this will amount to a propaganda victory for America’s enemies: The United States — a nation that abandons its values and kills its own citizens without trial.

Legally speaking, the critics have a point. Morally speaking, the intentional killing of a person is always questioned, with good reason. The fact remains, however, that this operation had to be done. The world is a safer place without Anwar al-Awlaki in it.

Suppose that, in order to respect the authority of the Constitution and al-Awlaki’s right to a trial, President Obama had initiated a mission to apprehend al-Awlaki in order to bring him before a court of law.

Would this approach have been preferred? Absolutely. Would it have had practical chances of success? No.

When executed to perfection, a mission of this sort still puts the lives of U.S. troops in an extremely vulnerable position. As more details have emerged in recent months on the specifics of bin Laden’s death, we see the various moments in which the operation could have failed disastrously, all in an attempt to possibly capture, instead of kill, the terrorist leader. Could U.S. military leaders reasonably have been expected to direct a similarly perilous mission in pursuit of al-Awlaki, simply because he was an American citizen?

A terrorist is a terrorist, no matter his birthplace. His death was an act of self-defense against an individual who repeatedly made the United States a target of murder. Any such targeting should be regarded as treason and a surrender of all rights that one is entitled to under the Constitution. Clear and present danger could not be any more obvious. It had a face and a name, and it was very real.

As for those who claim this will embolden Islamist extremists in their efforts, I ask which is preferred: an unfounded victory that exists only in the minds of our enemies, or an actual victory that would consist of another attack on harmless Americans? Surely we can agree that the absence of the extremists’ central figure head will significantly overshadow any “win” existing in the cowardly minds of these feckless criminals.

As an American, I feel no remorse over the death of a citizen whose hands were stained with the innocent blood of many people. Nor do I make any attempt to empathize with him, for there will never be rationalization for those whose twisted interpretation of a religion calls them to slaughter their neighbors above seeking unity. Yet once the dust settles around this issue, justified or not, al-Awlaki’s’ death will eventually amount to a single death in a war that often seems to have no end in sight. Conflicts progress but solutions are static, residing in the same undiscovered place that they have hidden in for years. War is a human issue, where there is nobody to blame and everybody to blame all the same.

For those who look to criminalize a single individual in this episode ­­— give up the search. This was not as simple as the killing of one man. Rather, it was a well-publicized act in an environment of war, which is indeed the fault of all humankind. President Obama did what needed to be done in weakening al-Qaeda. It may not have been a good thing, but it was the right thing. As Commander in Chief, Mr. Obama’s actions should be recognized as such.

John Sandberg is a sophomore English major. He can be reached at


The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.