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White House Changing Story on Anwar al-Awlaki? A Debate on NYT’s Inside Account of ’11 Drone Strike

Was the New York Times article on Anwar al-Awlaki misleading?
 
 
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A US Predator unmanned drone stands on the tarmac of Kandahar military airport on June 13, 2010.

 

 

The following is a transcript of a Democracy Now! segment. 

The New York Times’ front-page account of the U.S. assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki has drawn criticism from critics of the Obama administration’s targeted killings overseas. In a joint statement, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights called the story "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." We discuss the article and the White House assassination program with two guests: Scott Shane, national security reporter at The New York Times, and Jesselyn Radack, National Security & Human Rights director at the Government Accountability Project and former legal ethics adviser at the Justice Department. 

AMY GOODMAN: We’re looking at the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, and his son two weeks later. This was in September of 2011, Anwar Awlaki’s targeted killing by a U.S. drone in Yemen, and his son, Abdulrahman. Both were born in the United States. His son, 16 years old, was born in Denver. Anwar al-Awlaki’s father, Nasser al-Aulaqi, spoke recently about the U.S. killing of his 16-year-old grandson by this drone strike in Yemen, October 14th, 2011. The attack came as the Denver-born teenager, Abdulrahman, was eating dinner at an outdoor restaurant with his teenage cousin. He was killed just weeks after his father was assassinated.

NASSER AL-AULAQI: I want Americans to know about my grandson, that he was very nice boy. He was very caring boy for his family, for his mother, for his brothers. He was born in August 1995 in the state of Colorado, city of Denver. He was raised in America, when he was a child until he was seven years old. And I never thought that one day this boy, this nice boy, will be killed by his own government.

AMY GOODMAN: That was a video prepared by the ACLU of the grandfather of Anwar—of Abdulrahman and the father of Anwar al-Awlaki. His name is Nasser al-Aulaqi. Scott Shane, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights issued a statement in response to your article. The statement read in part, quote, "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. 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," unquote. Scott Shane, you’re the co-author of this front-page Sunday Times piece, "A U.S. Citizen ... in America’s Cross Hairs." Can you respond?

SCOTT SHANE: Sure. Well, I mean, I should say that we at The New York Times, we’re reporters: We’re all for transparency. And one thing that that statement from the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights failed to mention was that The New York Times also has sued the government to try to get the legal opinions justifying Anwar al-Awlaki’s death, but also all the targeting, all the legal opinions on targeted killings. We’ve lost at the district court level, and that case is now on appeal, but we would like obviously much greater transparency. And part of the reason we do a lot of reporting and put a long story in the paper like that is to shed as much light as we can on the circumstances of his death.

 
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