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Now that counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan is facing Senate confirmation as head of the CIA, a tragic story from 2011 is coming back to haunt him. Brennan has been largely responsible for drone strikes believed to have killed some 3,000 people. (Drone strikes are targeted, unmanned air strikes.) The targets are supposed to be enemy combatants who post an imminent threat to America's security. But that doesn't explain why a drone killed a 16-year-old American citizen, Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, two years ago.
We didn't get a satisfying explanation for that killing then. And I don't know if we'll get a satisfying explanation from Brennan now. But you'd better believe he's going to be asked about it.
Abdulrahman was the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, a high-profile American and Yemeni imam who was believed to be working with al Qaeda. (Anwar had been killed by a drone two weeks earlier.) It's no surprise that Anwar was targeted. But his son? Abdulrahman was living in Yemen at the time of his death. One night he snuck out of the house, leaving behind a note to his mother that he would return in a few days. He was killed while eating at an outdoor restaurant.
According to Abdulrahman's grandfather, Nassar al-Awlaki, the boy was just looking for his father:
Since the issue regarding Anwar came, I tried to insulate the family of Anwar from everything, regarding this matter. I took care of him, and suddenly after 2 year absence from his father, he decided to go to our government in Yemen to seek information from his father. That was the only reason he went, and he did not tell us.
Abdulrahman knew his father was on America's "kill list." He didn't know his father had already been killed. The boy was not working with al Qaeda. So why was he targeted? Was he up to something more sinister than just looking for his father? And even if he was, does that justify killing a kid?
It doesn't help that when White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about Abdulrahman, he replied:
I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children. I don't think becoming an al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.
Oh my god. Really? Look, I voted for this president. I will defend many things this administration does. But that was a shitty answer. What the hell was Gibbs thinking, giving that bullshit answer?
Conservatives are coming out hard against the White House over this -- but so are liberals. They're getting it from both sides. We are ALL horrified.
You know what's even worse? Nassar had written President Obama a letter specifically asking that he not kill his son and grandson. Why we went after Anwar anyway is somewhat understandable. I guess. I'll give them that. But I feel for this grandfather trying to protect his kid from both his hell-raising father and from the American government. What a horrible crevice to be squeezed in.
One thing that has come out of this mess is that the White House has ordered the Justice Department to release memos giving the legal justifications for drone strikes against U.S. citizens to two Congressional intelligence committees. In other words, we're getting a LITTLE more transparency and accountability about those drone strikes.
Imagine being in the same room as President Obama while he pores over the CIA's "kill or capture" list. Two of the people on the list look young enough to be teenagers. Was one of them Abdulrahman? Or was that an accident? I hope the memos being released shed some light on the question.
Do you think we'll ever learn why Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed?
Image via Sallam/Flickr