There have been strong reactions from all sides after the death of al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki ranging from celebration to outright contempt. Much of the controversy stems from Awlaki's citizenship status.
Awlaki was a dual U.S.-Yemen citizen. He along with another U.S. citizen, Samir Khan was killed in a drone strike on their convoy in Yemen. Officials say Awlaki directed at least four plots in the United States including the shooting at Ft. Hood and the Detroit underwear bomber.
Awlaki’s death is a “major blow to al-Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate,” U.S. President Barack Obama said speaking at a Joints Chiefs of Staff change of command ceremony on Friday. Government officials in various statements have applauded the strike as a necessary step in defeating al-Qaeda.
The ACLU claims the killing violated U.S. and International law. The organization in 2010 actually took their concerns for strikes against American citizens to court last year, but the cases were dismissed. Government lawyers argued that the President should have unreviewable authority to target American citizens who pose a threat to the country.
“As we've seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts,” ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said.
But according to at least one expert, case law says the United States was within its power in killing Awlaki despite his citizenship. Charlie Dunlap, a professor of law at Duke University Law School and director of Duke's Center on Law, Ethics and National Security says a case from 1942 set the precedent.
“Some have raised the issue of al-Awlaki’s U.S. citizenship, claiming he was entitled to being treated as legally different from other belligerents. In the still-applicable 1942 Nazi saboteur case of Ex Parte Quirin the Supreme Court concluded otherwise, finding that U.S. citizenship of ‘an enemy belligerent does not relieve him from the consequences of belligerency.’ In this instance, that ‘consequence’ is being targeted like any other enemy," he said in a published statement on Friday.