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The Secret Story Behind Obama’s Assassination of Two Americans in the Name of Fighting the 'War on Terror'

Jeremy Scahill's new book, "Dirty Wars" shines a light on America’s unregulated and increasingly unilateral global assassination program.

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And so, you had this family that really wanted to do two things. They wanted to raise their children in the tradition of the American spirit, but they also wanted to give back to their country. And when Dr. Nasser Aulaqi got his engineering degrees, he went back to Yemen and became the minister of agriculture and engineering in Yemen, and he actually built an entire faculty at the university. He founded this department, working with USAID and other U.S. officials to build this school of agricultural engineering. And his main life’s work has been to deal with the water crisis in Yemen, because Yemen is running out of water.

So, Anwar moved back with him, went to an international school in Yemen, where he was studying in both English and Arabic. His English was stronger than his Arabic, because he had spent the first seven years of his life in the U.S. So he was in a very international atmosphere. In fact, Anwar Awlaki went to school with the men who would end up working on the kill program, from the Yemeni side, to try to hunt him down, with the children of the country’s dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh. He went to school with some of them. And so, then later in life, their paths would cross again.

AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t he go to school with Saleh’s son?

JEREMY SCAHILL: He did, yes, and I write about that in the book. And it’s sort of—you know, Yemen, in a way, is a very small neighborhood and—when you’re dealing with government ministers. This was a school, actually, that Nasser al-Aulaqi helped to found in Yemen, this primary school, and it, to this day, remains one of the top schools in Yemen.

So when Anwar finished high school, he wanted to go to the United States, and originally he was going to follow in his father’s footsteps, and he was going to study engineering. And he arrived in the United States and was detained at the airport when he flew back into the United States, because there was a discrepancy on his passport. His Yemeni passport said that he was born in Yemen, and his American passport said that he was born in the United States—actually, the other way around. His American passport said that he was born in Yemen. And the reason it did is because a U.S. official had told Nasser al-Aulaqi, "If you want to get your son a scholarship in the United States, we should say that he’s born in Yemen, so you can have his birth certificate reissued in Yemen, and then he can get the travel documents." So, he ran into trouble because his passport—there were some discrepancies with his paperwork, so that was sort of his first run-in with law enforcement. But it was resolved, and he was released, and he ended up going to school in Colorado.

And this was right at the time when the mujahideen war in Afghanistan—you know, of course, the United States on the side of the mujahideen fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan—was sort of coming to an end, and the 1991 Gulf War was beginning. And Anwar had never been a particularly religious guy, and he had never been a particularly political guy, but he, like a lot of people—and, I mean, I remember this myself; I was in high school when the Gulf War started. It was really the first time that I came to terms with the fact that these wars happen, and I remember being very scared myself. And I think that, you know, Anwar, that deeply affected him, and he saw the destruction of Baghdad the first time around, and started going to antiwar meetings and was invited to go and speak at a local mosque about the war and about student organizing. And the imam at that mosque said, "You know, you have a real gift for speaking," and started to invite him back. And Anwar, this sort of fire was lit in him, and he decided he wanted to change course in life and decided to study to become an imam, and he immersed himself in Islamic scholarship and, in fact, became an imam, and eventually moved to San Diego and started his family. And his eldest son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was born in 1995. He was actually born in Denver, Colorado. And the Awlakis started to build a life for themselves, and Anwar was an imam.

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