Cheney, Harman Defend U.S. Attack on Al-Qaeda Leader in Yemen

The U.S. was justified in sending a drone aircraft into Yemen to kill U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda recruiter and propagandist, former Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic ex-Representative Jane Harman said.

“It was a very good strike,” Cheney said today on CNN’s “State of the Union” broadcast. “The president ought to have that kind of authority to order that kind of strike, even when it involves an American citizen, when there is clear evidence that he’s part of al-Qaeda.”

Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee before she quit in February to join the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, urged the administration to release legal documents she said provided the support for the drone strike against al-Awlaki in Yemen.

“I believe there is a good case,” Harman, of California, said on the broadcast. Al-Awlaki was an “imminent threat” who was beyond the U.S. ability to capture and “had complicity” with al-Qaeda, Harman said.

Al-Awlaki was identified by the Office of Foreign Assets Control list of “specially designated nationals” as a 40-year-old native of Las Cruces, New Mexico, with dual U.S. and Yemeni citizenship. Last year, President Barack Obama approved an order making him the first American ever to be placed on the Central Intelligence Agency’s hit list.

Fort Hood Killings

Through the website of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Awlaki helped inspire U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan to kill 13 people and wound 29 at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, U.S. counter-terrorism officials have said. He encouraged Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to try to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas Day 2009 with explosives hidden in his underwear, they said.

The administration has the right to target American citizens when they are outside the U.S. when the nation is at war, as it has been since the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, Cheney said.

“The Obama administration has clearly reached the point where they’ve agreed they need to be tough and aggressive in defending the nation and using some of the same techniques that the Bush administration did,” Cheney said.

The American Civil Liberties Union said Sept. 30 that “the targeted killing violates both U.S. and international law.”

In a statement, ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer called the campaign “a program under which American citizens far from the battlefield can be executed without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts.”

The Justice Department wrote a memorandum authorizing the killing of al-Awlaki, following a review by senior administration lawyers of the legal issues involved, the Washington Post reported yesterday, citing unidentified administration officials.

The newspaper cited the officials as saying there was no dissent about the legality of killing al-Awlaki. Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler and White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to comment on the memorandum.

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