“This is a great day for America,” says a senior Obama administration official, but not such a great day for the people of Yemen.
Fayza Sulieman, a protest leader fighting for democracy in Yemen told The Guardian:
We always question the timing of these announcements from our government, [Yemen’s recently returned President] Saleh is on the backfoot and on the verge of stepping down and suddenly Anwar Awlaki is killed. We all know that Saleh’s ‘fight’ against Al-Qaida is the only thread of support keeping him in office. We pray that this news does not distract the world from our struggle against this tyrannical regime.
Mary Ellen O’Connell, vice chair of the prestigious American Society of International Law, as well as a professor at the University of Notre Dame, tells Danger Room why President Obama had no legal authority to order the assassination of Awlaki.
“The United States is not involved in any armed conflict in Yemen,” O’Connell tells Danger Room, “so to use military force to carry out these killings violates international law.”
O’Connell’s argument turns on the question of whether the U.S. is legally at war in Yemen. And for the administration, that’s a dicey proposition. The Obama administration relies on the vague Authorization to Use Military Force, passed in the days after 9/11, to justify its Shadow Wars against terrorists. Under its broad definition, the Authorization’s writ makes Planet Earth a battlefield, legally speaking.
But the Authorization authorizes war against “nations, organizations, or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” It’s a stretch to apply that to al-Qaida’s Yemen affiliate, which didn’t exist on 9/11. But when House Republicans tried to re-up the Authorization to explicitly bless the new contours of the war against al-Qaida, the Obama administration balked, fearing the GOP was actually tying its hands on the separate question of terrorist detentions.
“It is only during the intense fighting of an armed conflict that international law permits the taking of human life on a basis other than the immediate need to save life,” O’Connell continues. “In armed conflict, a privileged belligerent may use lethal force on the basis of reasonable necessity. Outside armed conflict, the relevant standard is absolute necessity.”
So did al-Awlaki represent an “absolute” danger to the United States? President Obama, in acknowledging Awlaki’s death on Friday morning, didn’t present any evidence that he did.
As NPR reported, at a moment when few politicians are willing to question anything that is done in the name of national security, GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul had some tough words for Obama
“I don’t think that’s a good way to deal with our problems,” Paul told reporters. “Al-Awlaki was born here; he is an American citizen. He was never tried or charged for any crimes. No one knows if he killed anybody. We know he might have been associated with the underwear bomber. But if the American people accept this blindly and casually that we now have an accepted practice of the president assassinating people who he thinks are bad guys, I think it’s sad.
“I think what would people have said about Timothy McVeigh? We didn’t assassinate him, who we were pretty certain that he had done it. Went and put through the courts then executed him. To start assassinating American citizens without charges, we should think very seriously about this.”
And if Obama thinks his much trumpeted overseas successes are going to help him get re-elected, as MSNBC points out, the failing economy is really the only issue that preoccupies American voters.
No president since George H.W. Bush has had more foreign-policy successes happen under his watch than President Obama. The death of bin Laden. The dismantling of al Qaeda. The ouster of Khaddafy. And the end of combat operations in Iraq. Yet when you look at polls and Obama’s approval rating, he’s getting almost no credit from the American public, a la Bush 41.
When you ask the public about Obama and foreign policy, he gets good marks. But it’s not front of voters’ minds. In a bad economy, as Bush 41 learned, what happens overseas doesn’t matter.