Tonawanda News

Columns

March 10, 2013

DUVALL: Drawing the line on targets for drone strikes

Tonawanda News — Defending America is tricky business and even those with the best of intentions quickly find themselves miles from jingoistic bumper stickers imploring us to “support our troops.”

Case in point is the debate in Washington over the Obama administration’s sanctioning of the drone killing of an American-born member of al Qaida. 

The case of Anwar al-Awlaki raises pertinent and scary new questions about the limits of presidential power, First Amendment rights and prosecuting global terrorists.

Awlaki wasn’t born a radical Muslim orchestrating terror strikes against innocent fellow citizens. He was at points in the beginning of his career as a cleric, a moderate. He preached at the Capitol and spoke at the Pentagon. He gave moderate interviews to American media.

But slowly, over the course of a decade, he would grow into a senior al Qaida operative who played a role in the Fort Hood shootings, the so-called Underwear Bomber’s attempt to bring down an airliner over Detroit and another failed bomb plot in Times Square.

He was, in short, a very bad man.

How the Obama administration addressed the situation, though, was at best clumsy and at worst downright terrifying. After months of debate and an intense legal battle justifying the act — all behind closed doors — the military and the CIA tracked Awlaki and killed him. Along the way, they also killed two other Americans — one Awlaki’s 16-year-old son who, with no terrorist implications, who had set out to try to find his father.

For years, the CIA had monitored Awlaki’s correspondences, telephone and web-based. He was a powerful recruiting tool for al Qaida, speaking unaccented English and writing eloquently about what he saw as America’s war on Islam.

Dastardly as that might sound, we have a thing called the First Amendment protecting it. 

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