Awlaki's 16-year-old son killed by US drone

Glenn Greenwald rounds up a number of reports related to the killing of al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son by an unmanned aerial drone from the US:

Two weeks after the U.S. killed American citizen Anwar Awlaki with a drone strike in Yemen — far from any battlefield and with no due process — it did the same to his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, ending the teenager’s life on Friday along with his 17-year-old cousin and seven other people.

Initial US reports stated he was 21, but a birth certificate obtained by The Washington Post shows that he was born 16 years ago in Denver. According to the boy's grandfather, he and his cousin were at a barbecue and preparing to eat when they were killed.

(thanks, @ioerror)


  1. What seems to be missed in all of this is a. that the boy’s grandparents (on the father’s side) own some of this as they didn’t exactly buy into the America Dream with their son, allowing or enabling his radicalization and b. that US citizenship can be revoked, without any direct action by the citizen in question. There is a protocol for it (you can find it at the State Dep’t website) and a corresponding US code section. 

    I think continually bringing up the accident of their births is a distraction. Either the action was legal in their case or not, and the same would then apply to the other AQ operatives targeted. There are far more pressing questions, like the morality of fighting a war that doesn’t require the use of troops as more than video game jockeys, flying drones from halfway around the world. 

    1. Really? “Far more pressing questions” than those about a world superpower killing a 16-year old citizen along with his 17-year old cousin and seven other people at a barbecue?

    2. So, because they didn’t fly the stars and stripes, BOOM. Disgusting world you live in there, hope your 16 year old scares the shit out of you someday.

      1. Nice superficial analysis there, sparky. 

        He was radicalized while he was a kid, with the full knowledge and consent of his parents: why live in a place you are raising your kid to hate? Being a citizen without any allegiance to a country is meaningless. It doesn’t mean you have to be a breast-beating jingoist but actively working toward the overthrow of that government from foreign soil seems like a breach of faith. 

          1. Sure, if we can capture them. Let me put to you this way: how many American soldiers do we want to send to Yemen to find this guy with all the political ramifications of invasion/occupation? If he considered a US citizen, it removes the argument that Americans are worth more than others (not an argument I am making but you can find it being made). 

            I don’t defend this at all, I just want it understood in the context of all of these targeted remote control operations. Either they are all equally legal and valid or none of them are, with citizenship given no weight at all. 

            And then if you wanted to try bin Laden or any of these, where would you do it? Who would prosecute and defend? Who would serve as jury? Or judge? How will that decision be taken around the world? McVeigh wanted to be a spectacle, refused appeals. I don’t see bin Laden going quietly as a political act. 

        1. Call me all the names you like as you walk away from what this nation stands for while braying about the betrayals of others

          It’s my right to hate my country (though I don’t happen to) and it is my country’s right to arrest me for what I have done, or at least prove it in a court of law, FIRST before knowingly killing me. I AM THE SOVERIEGN.

          You, sir, are no court of law. You sir, are a scared little nincompoop.

      2. I won’t teach my children to be terrorists. I teach them to be kind to others instead. Everything else should pretty much take care of itself.

        1. I teach them to be kind to others instead.

          Since you’ve shown no empathy for a dead 16 year-old, please forgive me if I don’t believe that for one second.

    3. If you’re going to question the morality of using drones, why stop there?  Is it moral for our pilots to fly fighters that fly too fast and too high to strike with an RPG-7?  Is it moral for our soldiers to ride in armored vehicles that a 7.62mm round cannot penetrate?  Is it moral for us to use infrared, IFF, and encrypted communications networks so all of our guys can see and identify targets even at night?

      War is immoral.  Throwing our punches for the sake of “fairness” will only get more people killed.  All we can do is try to get our guys home safe.  If that makes it harder for the enemy to do the same, that is the price of war. 

        1. Actually, I have a problem with killing anyone who hasn’t been accused, arrested or tried who isn’t in a country where Congress has declared war with. Human rights extends to everyone, even Saddam and Gadhafi. I realize that that probably puts me in the minority here but I always thought that that was what the US was all about. Apparently, I’m wrong.

        2. I agree but I dislike the qualifier, “American citizens”. It seems to imply citizens of any other country are fair game.

          “It’s the morality of murdering” people (and in this case, children) “who haven’t been accused, arrested or tried.”

        3. I’ve never been in favor of that, in any way, shape or form.  I’ve always believed that if it’s obvious that someone is guilty, the trial should be quick, easy, and a good PR move. 

      1. No argument from me. UAVs are the logical extension of longbows and catapults, ways to deal death without getting your hair mussed. Depleted uranium rounds, phosphorus shells, these are current in service by the US Army, along with UAVs, all of them nasty. 

        1. There are better examples than DU.  We don’t use that because it’s radioactive (it’s not very dangerous, which is why we call it “depleted” and use it as tank armor).  We use it because it’s really friggin hard.  It only becomes hazardous when it’s smashed into dust.  Inhaling it is a really bad idea.  That’s why we never use them in any situation where they’ll suffer a heavy impact against a solid object… only as armor and anti-tank ammo!  But don’t worry; every time they blasted an Iraqi tank with one they covered the wreckage with a tarp.  Eventually.  Sometimes.

      2. Well– that being said– there is an argument to be made against specific military actions.  For instance: that taking those actions don’t help you “win” & in fact ruin your chances of winning.  Bombs.  I am talking about bombs, & using bombs to “help” a country.  You can’t rescue a country by blowing it up.  “Hey, we liberated Iraq!” doesn’t work when you destroy Iraq’s infrastructure & kill civilians.  So yeah, I don’t care about the “morality” of using drones, bombs, etc.  I question the efficacy of it, & I question the entire underpinning of  current conventional warmaking– we’ve got a military designed to operate in the “total war” doctrine of WWII, that was retrofitted to work in the “balance of terror” ultimate annihilation scenario of the Cold War, they we are currently using to…well, who knows WHAT we are trying to do with our armed forces any more?

        1. OK, first of all, I am not going to argue with you for a second that you cannot bring democracy to a nation at gunpoint.  I don’t want to argue over why we’re fighting over there as that is obviously a huge can of worms.

          However I do take issue with your assertion that we’re flattening the entire country.  We’re not.  In fact there’s been a growing emphasis on smaller, more accurate munitions (google “Small Diameter Bomb”).  We have made it a point to be able to strike targets WITHOUT damaging infrastructure.  We can level a building without even damaging the power lines that lead to it (not that that’s a huge concern anymore since most of Iraq is without power for other reasons). 

          Compare today’s Baghdad to WWII’s Dresden, then consider how long both cities were under attack.  Our bombings in Iraq are downright SURGICAL.

          The only question is if we need to be sued for malpractice.  I swear that kidney looked like it was going to turn cancerous any second!

          1. when “[c]ompare today’s Baghdad to WWII’s Dresden” is your rubric for success, you’ve taken a wrong turn.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians would probably disagree with the surgical precision of the attacks.  Hey– I’m with you, I don’t want to get caught up in the political mumbo jumbo– all I’m saying is that it hardly helps the nation & it SURE as hell ain’t helping our reputation in the neighborhood.

          2. You’re right.  Blowing things up doesn’t win hearts and minds.  But the fact that we’ve killed 100,000 Iraqi civilians only counts as inaccuracy if we weren’t aiming for them. 

      3. I work on drones in the Air Force, MQ-1’s and MQ-9’s. i just want to say this is one of the most intelligent comments i’ve read in a long time.

      4. It isn’t about the method or the act. It is about what is not happening to enable it. Things like indictments, declarations of evidence in a court of law, the fact that all citizens are required to have these. Even in abstentia.

  2. He must have been a terrorist.  Everyone knows those missiles only explode when they strike a terrorist. 

  3. The just need to update the firmware on the drones to not launch missiles at anyone cooking up a huge slab of ribs, dripping in bbq sauce. Only full blooded Americans eat that stuff!

    The pot of baked beans is a good indicator too.

    1. The just need to update the firmware on the drones to not launch missiles at anyone cooking up a huge slab of ribs, dripping in bbq sauce. Only full blooded Americans eat that stuff!The pot of baked beans is a good indicator too…..And the scent of cheeseburger smoke…..(Man -now I think I want some deviled eggs….)

  4. I have no problem killing these guys, but it needs to be sanctioned by all three branches of government on a case-by-case basis.
    Killing a citizen without trial shouldn’t be up to the executive alone.

  5. To all the people saying not to attend BBQs with terrorists, think about what you are saying a little.  Do you know who is a terrorist and who is not?

    I did not know until I was an adult, but my grandfather (who died when I was 7) was in the IRA (though spent 40 years hiding from them in Canada).  Regardless, it doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination or change of timelines to imagine a Predator drone blowing up my wedding or BBQ. 

    I am not, have not and will never be anything even close to a terrorist (at least until they redefine it as a person who votes against the interests of the powerful).  But I could easily be tarred as having ‘ties to terrorist organizations’ – no doubt I have a second or third cousin or two (whom I have never met and have no connection to beyond blood) who are/were in the IRA.  My kids could also be blown to bits and dismissed as easily.  I have a problem with this (being innocent).

    Of course, any such specious claims would be utterly destroyed in a court of law.  But that would be moot, because I and my family would be dead.

    We have courts for a reason, in Canada and in the US.  We should be using them.  Of course, it isn`t likely we would give someone the death penalty for `being the child of an accused terrorist`within the legal system.

    1. I think that you are the exception, not the rule. 

      You were 7 when your grandfather died? And how long had he been hiding from the IRA? 

      There is a lot difference between 16 and 7.  A 7 year-old who only remembers the good stuff about his grandfather is a long way from the 16 year-old who has been brainwashed his entire life.

      1. He had been hiding for about 40 years or so.  No idea why. 

        For all we know this kid didn’t want to go to the bbq with his family.  Most 16 year olds don’t.  He probably complained and moped through the whole thing.  Then he died for being related to assholes (thank got that is not a capital offense for the rest of us – yet).

        In a free society people are innocent until proven guilty.  In a war, it is a legal requirement to avoid civilian/noncombatant casualties.  Targeting a bbq does not exactly seem like ‘avoiding’ so much as ‘the rules don’t apply to us’.

        To be honest, there are a great many people who are likely related, within a couple of degrees of separation, to a terrorist (past or present).  Certainly most of us with even a drop of Irish heritage, and a great many with other European heritages.  How many people in the US South are not related within a couple of generations to a Klansman? Especially if we follow the ‘a terrorist is someone called a terrorist by a government’ line. 

        If being related to a terrorist is a capital crime then we have lost whatever rights we had.  If being in the vicinity of someone who is related to a terrorist is a crime then we may be beyond repair. 

        How long until a Predator takes out a Ruby Ridge house somewhere in Montana? 

        As I said in a previous thread – to all you US citizens who thought you were exempt from your government’s war on people who are not you, welcome to our club.  Now you too can be killed without a trial, if you happen to be in the wrong place or look wrong or perhaps support something somebody doesn’t like.  Or, in the case of one of my (Canadian) countryment, happen to have coffee with someone once that is from your cultural group (leading to rendition and 2 years of torture despite innocence).

  6. The US government has assassinated two of its own citizens, one a minor, and neither having been charged with any crime or having faced a trial.

    Regardless of your opinion of whether or not “they deserved it” (looking at you, proctor), I believe THIS SETS A VERY DANGEROUS FUCKING PRECEDENT.

    This is to be to Obama what torture was to Bush.  A Rubicon.  It will be remembered as a milestone in the fall of our republic.

    1. This is to be to Obama what torture was to Bush.  A Rubicon.  It will be remembered as a milestone in the fall of our republic.Only to the critics…

  7. Killing minors is a crime, citizens or not. The UN  Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed but not ratified by the US, forbids killing of children.  It doesnt matter if they are evil, children have special protection under international law and treaties. 

    1. The US invasion of Iraq was illegal by UN conventions, which prohibit pre-emptive war.  Do you really think they’re going to care about one they didn’t even sign?

      1. In China Falun Gong adherents (nutcases, yes, very possibly) are considered terrorists by the government. What will you do when China starts killing its dissidents in other countries with drones ? Im betting that that would be Wrong and Bad and Shame on You! 

  8. I’ve long thought that certain 16-year-olds needed to be targeted with a Hellfire missile. Does anyone know if the administration takes requests?

  9. How is this different from a US soldier using an Afghani teenager for target practice, and posing by his body for trophy photos?

    We have become the bad guys in this fight.

  10. I’m not pleased with the Obama administration’s refusal to release the DoJ memo that “justifies” killing Awlaki and agree that it is every bit as an egregious reach by the executive branch as Bush’s waterboarding. 

    BUT from the WaPo article:

    “Yemeni officials said the dead from the strike included Ibrahim al-Banna, the Egyptian media chief for al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, and also a brother of Fahd al-Quso, a senior al-Qaeda operative who was indicted in New York in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden.The strike occurred near the town of Azzan, an Islamist stronghold. The Defense Ministry in Yemen described Banna as one of the “most dangerous operatives” in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, often referred to by the acronym AQAP”

    The deaths of innocent children is wrong – no question.  And it would be swell if terrorists would put themselves on a battlefield and only attack prepared military targets so we could get rid of all collateral damage.

    But Yemen isn’t complaining about the location or target of the attack (call it an assassination if you want) and this isn’t a kid who sat at the wrong table at a church picnic.

  11. Would it appear too biased to use the word “assassination” more often when describing extra-judicial killings in non-combat, non-war situations? I don’t think conservatives would be too shy to embrace a term like assassination, although Obama can’t even admit that bombing Libya = “hostilities”.

  12. Some countries count age from zero.
    That’s important if you’re trying to only kill people over a certain age, and relying on their self-reported ages.

    But I’m not sure why the government would want to age restrict itself, anyway?

  13. It’s ridiculous that anyone would think the justification of whether or not it’s OK to kill a person hinges on which country some legal document (i.e., a birth certificate) was filed in decades ago.

    What fucking difference does it make whether he’s a citizen or not?

    1. When Americans can be targeted for killing because they hold unpoplular views and MAY have committed treasonous acts, then we’re doing it wrong.

      The proof the state needs to kill him is the same it needs to kill you.

      1. When Americans can be targeted for killing because they hold unpopular views and MAY have committed treasonous acts, then we’re doing it wrong. The proof the state needs to kill him is the same it needs to kill you.So if I’m not an American citizen, what then? The American government can kill me for whatever reason and nobody cares? There are a lot more people in the world that aren’t American than who are. Can the US government just kill them at will and say “eh, not citizens, whatever”?The “he’s a citizen, therefore we can’t kill him” argument is ridiculous. It implies that if he wasn’t a citizen, then we could. How about “he hasn’t been convicted of any crime, therefore we can’t kill him, regardless of his citizenship status?” Does that not seem a lot more reasonable?

      2. The proof the state needs to kill him is the same it needs to kill you.Well, I guess it’s not a good idea to BBQ with known terrorists. I wish that innocent people had not died. (Were there innocents there? It could have been a cookout full of terrorists. We don’t know. And we never will.) The term “Casualty of War” exists for a reason.Obama just saved the American Taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars on a trial.

  14. Remember, despite murdering and killing innocent civilians, individually or in groups of tens, or hundreds, or thousands, the same epithets applied to persons such as Gadaffi and Osama bin Laden (such as “evil”, “monsters”, etc,) can never be applied to American leaders. Because … um … help me out here …

  15. As an act of war there should be no issues of illegality here.  It wasn’t a police action that killed him.  If we are committed to assisting countries in their fight against terrorism then targeted strikes against leadership, so long as they are authorized by the host country, are a part of doing war.  You either believe we should be at war with terrorist networks in foreign countries, or you don’t.  I’m not arguing either way there.  But US citizenship should not afford enemy combatants due process privileges.  If, on the other hand, this guy was known to be travelling through Saudi Arabia, where we are not conducting war with terrorist networks, any assassination attempt would clearly be illegal.  In that case it would be a law enforcement matter.  

    The idea of citizenship contains pragmatic, but no moral obligations, and to the extent we pretend it does it cheapens the standing of citizens of other countries.  If you don’t believe the targeted killing of suspected terrorists in other countries is just to begin with then I don’t see how the killing of a US citizen makes it any less so.

  16. Please do correct me if I’m wrong, but…

    Isn’t putting a bunch of potentially innocent people (they had no evidence of implicit will to harm for all of the people they killed) to death remotely pretty much an act of terrorism? How is this any different than leaving a nailbomb in a café? I’m failing to see the difference, here. Isn’t this an act of terrorism by the US? The only difference I can perceive is that a different level of technology was used, but the intents and results were exactly the same as what the US deigns to be terrorism.

    So, forgive me for being a British idiot, but I’m just failing to see the difference, here. My brain has now relegated the US to the same levels of horridness as the IRA, and not particularly different in any way. When I used to read what the UK media had to say about terrorism, it was pretty much this. You hide yourself behind someone/something, you use explosive materials to remotely deal death to a bunch of potentially innocent people, and you do this to make people afraid of you. Terrorism. Isn’t that what the US did with this? How is this not terrorism?

    The problem here is that I can’t take the US seriously any more. Whenever those politicians talk about terrorism now, I’ll be half wondering if they’re talking about someone else… or themselves. The US, a nation run by terrorists. Good job.

    1. Ethics aside, I would disagree with the terminology. Granted, “terrorist” is bandied about today by the gung-ho righteous right-wingers with such careless abandon, that the assassination of Abdulrahman could probably qualify, but from my perspective the targeted assassination of any specific figure would never qualify as terrorism. To me, a defining feature of terrorism is that it is place-oriented, not people oriented – that its goal is to indiscriminately kill anyone who happens to be at a given place at given time, rather than to kill a specific person or group of specific people. Terrorists do not individually know their targets.

      This can be murder or assassination (and the US ends up as being run by murderers or assassins), but to me it is not terrorism.

    2. The US is NOT being run by terrorists. Our President is fighting a war and during war, innocents die too. I know that we aren’t at war in Yemen, but that is where the terrorists were at the time.

      “potentially innocent people”?  The key word there is Potentially.  There were also people there who were, in fact, terrorists.
      Ask the Yemen Defense Ministry if we were unjust in killing the people there who were plotting to do us  harm. (And by ‘us’ I mean normal people who think we should be able  go to work each day and the building we work  in won’t explode.)

      I’d like to think that the United States erred on the side of caution.

      If you’re an impressionable 16 year-old whose father was a terrorist, and you’re in Yemen,  (too young- but too old to possibly change such a point of view), cooking up some grub with terrorists, well, don’t be surprised if a drone finds it’s way there. I was less than 16 years old when I figured out that guilty by association is not just a figure of speech. If the boy wasn’t a terrorist- why was he associating? Terrorist or confirmed future terrorist is indistinguishable to me at this point.

       This “War on Terror” started because 2,977 people died in America 10 years ago because they went to work or got on an airplane -or tried to help those that did. NOT because they were at a BBQ with terrorists. And something like 18,000 more people here are still sick from the dust.

      It is not the same thing!

  17. So, uh, who was the actual target of the attack? Surely we didn’t INTEND to kill some teenagers at a BBQ.

    BTW, blowing up people because they don’t like us only causes more people to not like us. Even if, say, it was totally awesome to kill a US citizen because he told people to attack us for attacking them, it’s still kind of counter-productive.

  18. I’ve been uncomfortable for some time with the actions of this administration, even though I’ve voted for Democrats since Jimmy Carter.  For whatever reason this is the last straw for me.   I’m unsubscribing for Obama campaign lists and (since there’s a place to say why) saying:

      I have lost faith in the President’s commitment to progressive ideals.   He’s acting as a Republican because it’s politically expedient.  I’m unhappy with the governments commitment to human rights and respectful treatment of people swept up in immigration, the “war” on terror,  or just traveling.  I’d rather see a Republican who tells me he’ll act in a way I disagree with than a Democrat who tells me he agrees with me and acts as the Republican would.

  19. I am surprised no one has pointed out that the names are spelled differently on this official document than in any of reporting I have seen.

    As far as ‘no due process’, the father was tried and convicted.  In Yemen. Which then seems to have requested US assistance in his capture or execution (implicit, but I haven’t seen anything confirming the request).  Even if he had not renounced his US citizenship through his actions, if we recognize  Yemen as a sovereign nation, then there was ‘due process’.  This is further supported by a US district judge’s decision earlier this year not to support the suit brought by the family requesting a stay of any Exec. Branch orders supporting his capture or death.

    As far as the kid is concerned, not enough data yet.

    1. Vnend: The spelling changes are really nothing to raise an eyebrow.  There is often confusion about spelling Arabic or Persian names in the Roman alphabet. My sister’s name is spelled differently than her father’s, and I believe their cousins living in Germany use still a different spelling.

      Do you not remember the early days of the War on Terror, when there were something like 10 different spellings of “al Quaeda” used in the media?


    We have rules that arent being followed.  Bad people need to be punished, Rules are Rules, they make them, they dont follow them.

    It has become disgustingly apparent that many people in America (the masses of scared and uninformed) are completely fine with giving up their own RIGHTS/MORALS/FREEDOMS/TRUTH/JUSTICE/etc. for a pretend semblance of “SECURITY”.  Its a scam folks, its the old “look over here, while we do this” trick!  You could give up every single freedom, allow every intrusion into your privacy, and guess what, THERE WILL STILL BE TROUBLEMAKERS.

    For instance would I want to melt all my jewelry and store it in the ground in a field outside of town?  Its sort of safe, a lot more safe than the world is today, but all its beauty is destroyed.  Just like our Freedom.

    Im all for extraditing him back to America for trial then killing him by packing explosives in his rectum or by letting a group of terrorist survivors alone in a room with him.   
    BUTTTTT Simply blasting a child (American citizen or not) and a few other children out of a backyard half way across the country, is clearly COWARDLY.
     I for one could never stand behind those obviously immoral actions, nor should any reasonable thinking intelligent person.

    I was slightly confused by his father being “droned down” but I was a bit shaken at his kid and 6-7 random people being assassinated as well. 

    Maybe they will still teach freedom in the history books of the future.  I dont morn for him, I morn my rights and yours.  I see the future and its grim, what exactly should I tell my children is “great” about America today?  (besides its citizens and true patriots)

  21. America killed a 16 year old?  Man…that’s some evil stuff.  It’s appalling we’re not as civilized and in tune with human rights as the Middle East.

  22. Kill’em All, let God sort them out…this seems to be the MO when using drones…and we pretend that using these drones absolves us of responsibility for killing innocent people. But this isn’t at all like the terrorists who use homicide bombs, right?

  23. Had Awlaki Jr. been the target of the attack I would be heaping ridicule on the US Government, but if (as is being suggested by the Washington Post article to which Jonathan Peterson referred) the target was someone else higher up in the AQ food chain then this is nothing but a tragic case of collateral damage. I don’t know how one can mitigate such deaths if the intelligence at hand says that person “x” is at a certain location at a certain time. A comprehensive guest-list is hard to come by when searching for people in hiding, you see.

    As for those saying this kid was guilty by association: Give me a fucking break. He was 16 years old.. What power over your life did you have at 16? 

  24. Really? This is a horrible precedent. Killing Americans without a trial is just unconstitutional.  At least the farce of “trial in absentia” could have been conducted.

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