Never having been cited by the U.S. government as much more than being an "inspiration" for those who carried out terrorist attacks at Fort Hood, Texas; the 2005 London transit bombings; a failed "underwear" bombing of a passenger plane en route from Amsterdam to Detroit; a dubious case involving Muslims who were said to be planning a terrorist attack at Fort Dix, New Jersey; and a failed bomb set to detonate in Time Square in New York, al Awlaki was named a "specially designated global terrorist" and his assassination was personally ordered by President Barack Obama in early 2010. In October 2010, Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) called on YouTube to remove hundreds of al Awlaki's videos from its website, charging that they inspired terrorists. Weiner later resigned in disgrace after lewd photos that he sent to several women surfaced on the Internet.
Like Obama, who claimed Indonesian citizenship to receive a foreign scholarship at Occidental College in Los Angeles in 1979, al Awlaki claimed Yemeni citizenship when he obtained a foreign student scholarship to attend Colorado State in 1991. During his summer breaks at college, al Awlaki trained with CIA- and Saudi-backed mujaheddin guerrillas in Afghanistan. Al Awlaki later earned a Master's degree from San Diego State University and he was enrolled in a doctorate program at George Washington University in Washington, DC from January to December 2001. Al Awlaki also served as the Muslim chaplain at George Washington University.
A few months after the 9/11 attacks, Al Awlaki was invited to a luncheon at the Office of General Counsel in the Secretary of Army's office at the Pentagon. The invitation was part of a Pentagon initiative to reach out to moderate Muslims. At the luncheon, where some attendees were hostile to al Awlaki, he condemned "Al Qaeda" and the 9/11 attacks. Al Awlaki also wrote on the website IslamOnline.net six days after the 9/11 attacks that he believed they were carried out by Israeli intelligence agents, a view shared by a number of U.S. and foreign intelligence and military experts, a number of whom are non-Muslim and some of whom worked at the Pentagon at the same time of al-Awlaki's luncheon meeting. In 2002, al Awlaki was the first Muslim cleric to conduct a prayer service at the U.S. Capitol. Citing a climate of fear among American Muslims, al Awlaki left the U.S. for Britain at the end of 2002.
In 2004, al Awlaki returned to Yemen. His father, Dr. Nasser al Awlaki, received a Master's degree at New Mexico State University on a Fulbright Scholarship and a doctorate at the University of Nebraska. Dr. al Awlaki later served as Agriculture Minister under Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and, subsequently, as president of Sana'a University. The Awlakis are related to Yemeni Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Mujawar, who, along with Saleh, was seriously injured in a rebel bombing attack on June 3.
Obama's decision to order the assassination of al Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, has met with opposition from constitutional rights groups and experts. However, there is another aspect of the al Awlaki assassination that should serve as a stark warning to American journalists. In May, while attending the Arab Media Forum in Dubai, this editor was afforded an opportunity by a Yemeni television news producer to travel to Yemen and meet with al Awlaki. Following a flight to Sana'a from Dubai, the meeting with al Awlaki would have been arranged by his father and would have taken place in a secret location in the Yemeni mountains east of Sana'a and after a thorough vetting process by al Awlaki's followers, including a vigorous pat down for geo-location devices. With al Awlaki designated as Public Enemy Number 1 by the Obama White House, the CIA, and just about every other U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agency, I declined the invitation. However, given the fact that reporters for CNN and ABC News met in secret locations in Afghanistan with Osama Bin Laden in 1997 and 1998, respectively, there was a precedent for journalists meeting with those designated as "most wanted" by the United States government. Al Awlaki, a U.S. citizen ordered murdered by the President of the United States, was a much different case than Bin Laden and just as, if not more, newsworthy than Bin Laden for an American readership.
Had I taken the Yemeni producer up on his offer and met with al Awlaki at the same time that U.S. drones launched their attack, Obama would have been responsible for the murder of more than one American citizen. Obama's decision to assassinate American citizens without due process and according to the Constitution he swore to uphold becomes much more problematic when "collateral damage" to other Americans enters into the picture.
Now that Obama has taken the step to assassinate an American citizen, where does this "slippery slope" end?
There is also the information that al Awlaki has taken to the grave -- information that may have been gleaned from a personal interview had I opted for one. What information did al Awlaki have about Israel's involvement in 9/11? Who were his interlocutors at the Pentagon? Who were his CIA contacts while fighting with the mujahidin in Afghanistan. As to the first question, Obama's friends in Jerusalem perhaps have much more to celebrate today than they did last week when Obama sold out Palestinian independence for some big political donations from Wall Street and Hollywood.
UPDATE 1X: After the report of al Awlaki's assassination by American drone strikes in Yemen, it is being reported that a second American citizen, Samir Khan, a Riyadh-born Pakistani-American from Charlotte, North Carolina, was killed in the same drone attack. Khan was said to be the publisher of the English-language "Inspire," an "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" magazine that recently criticized Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for suggesting that the 9/11 attacks were an "inside job" by the U.S. government. "Inspire's" stance on 9/11 as the work of "Al Qaeda" matches up completely with those of the Obama administration and Israel and its global lobby.
"Inspire" has come under suspicion that it was a propaganda tool of the CIA and/or Mossad used to keep "Al Qaeda" relevant as the Arab Spring movement rejects Al Qaeda's jihadist doctrine. "Inspire" debuted in July 2010. "Inspire" was first brought to the media's attention by the Washington-based Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE), a known tool of Israel's Mossad..., CIA and the infamous White House Murder INC,.....