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Rights Groups: New York Times Exposé a 'One-Sided' Account of al-Awlaki, Drone Strikes

Accountability for the Government’s killing program missing in 'selective' disclosures

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

A Sunday edition New York Times article which traces the origins of drone strikes on three U.S. citizens, Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, and al-Awlaki's sixteen year old son Abdulrahman, presents itself as a fair and balanced narrative, but actually serves as an overall "one-sided, selective" account, giving aid to the U.S. government's shadowy justifications for its extra-judicial killings across the world, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights said Sunday.

Car in Shabwa Province, Yemen, after drone strike. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters) On the article How a U.S. Citizen Came to Be in America’s Cross Hairs, the ACLU states:

In anonymous assertions to The New York Times, current and former Obama administration officials seek to justify the killings of three U.S. citizens even as the administration fights hard to prevent any transparency or accountability for those killings in court. This is the latest in a series of one-sided, selective disclosures that prevent meaningful public debate and legal or even political accountability for the government’s killing program, including its use against citizens.

"By the time the missile found him," the New York Times writes, al-Awlaki, 40, "had been under the scrutiny of American officials for more than a decade." However, as the article goes to lengths to highlight evidence that al-Awlaki's beliefs, language and speeches were 'anti-American' and potentially incendiary– al-Awlaki never partook in acts of violence against the U.S. and was never officially indicted for a crime before he was killed by the U.S. drone missile.

This did not dissuade the U.S. government from claiming the extra-judicial authority of taking out al-Awlaki as an "imminent" threat, nor the articles's apparent complacency with its reasoning.

As ACLU and CCR state today:

Government officials have made serious allegations against Anwar al-Aulaqi, but allegations are not evidence, and the whole point of the Constitution’s due process clause is that a court must distinguish between the two. If the government has evidence that Al-Aulaqi posed an imminent threat at the time it killed him, it should present that evidence to a court.

With phrases like, "Mr. Awlaki was probably involved" the article does not present strong evidence. It does, however, succeed as an apologists version of the U.S.'s controversial drone policies—including the strike which killed al-Alwaki's sixteen year old son, Abdulrahman, who had merely "gone to find his father."

The Times article portrays Abdulrahman's killing as a "tragic error"—an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise successful drone program:

...a missile apparently intended for an Egyptian Qaeda operative, Ibrahim al-Banna, hit a modest outdoor eating place in Shabwa. The intelligence was bad: Mr. Banna was not there, and among about a dozen men killed was the young Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who had no connection to terrorism and would never have been deliberately targeted.

It was a tragic error and, for the Obama administration, a public relations disaster...

The ACLU continues:

Officials now also anonymously assert that Samir Khan’s killing was unintended and that the killing of 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi was a mistake, even though in court filings the Obama administration refuses to acknowledge any role in those killings. In court filings made just last week, the government in essence argued, wrongly, that it has the authority to kill these three Americans without ever having to justify its actions under the Constitution in any courtroom.

The ACLU and CCR are both currently challenging the legality of the drone strikes that killed al-Awlaki, Khan, and Abdulrahman.

Update:

Since ACLU's statement, Marcy Wheeler at Empty Wheel has written an extensive article debunking many of the positions taken in the New York Times piece.

Wheeler writes:

Mark Mazzetti, Charlie Savage, and Scott Shane team up to provide the government’s best case — and at times, an irresponsibly credulous one — for the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and the collateral deaths of Samir Khan and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. [...]

Mind you, the NYT makes their job — which, in addition to claiming critics of the legal case behind the Anwar al-Awlaki killing are simply confused, seems to be inventing narratives to make the Khan and Abdulrahman deaths less appalling — much easier by ignoring [a] WikiLeaks cable. But ignoring it does the same thing their demonstrably credulous acceptance of the Abu Tarak story does: it demonstrates how hard the NYT worked to preserve the narrative the government fed them, public evidence to the contrary.

It’s all very convenient, that the NYT worked so hard to preserve the Administration’s narrative spinning its action as reasonable, just before Obama will reportedly make a speech about it. Any bets that what Obama says will match the story told here?

Read the whole article here.

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