Abdulmutallab: The Fort Hood jihadi's spiritual advisor told me to blow up the plane

You remember our friend Mr. Awlaki, I presume. This makes four jihadist killers he may have had personal contact with: Abdulmutallab, Nidal Hasan, and the two 9/11 hijackers who attended his mosque.

Just one problem with taking him out. He’s an American citizen.

Al-Awalki appears to be in a leadership role when it comes to directing terrorist operations and selecting targets for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a law enforcement source told CBS News investigative producer Pat Milton. He had previously been viewed as a behind-the-scenes supporter, providing religious guidance and justification for attacks. He is now said to be an active operations player picking targets and suggesting schemes.

According to the source, Abdulmutallab told investigators he obtained the powerful explosives PETN and TATP in Yemen and was left on his own to decide when and how to bring down a plane, Milton reports. Abdulmutallab has apparently disclosed to investigators he picked Northwest Flight 253 because of its availability.

The source said Abdulmutallab told investigators he was guided by al-Awalki to detonate the bomb over U.S. soil, unlike the failed British bomber plot in 2006 when the bombers were instructed to detonate bombs on airliners over the ocean on the way to the U.S. so that there would be no evidence left behind.

U.S. intelligence already tried to kill him in Yemen via drone attack. How did they get permission to target an American citizen with some very un-Gitmo-esque treatment? They went to the top:

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said in each case a decision to use lethal force against a U.S. citizen must get special permission.

“We take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence community,” he said. “If we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.”…

Mr. Blair responded that he would rather not discuss the details of this criteria in open session, but he assured: “We don’t target people for free speech. We target them for taking action that threatens Americans or has resulted in it.”

He added, “The reason I went this far in open session is I just don’t want other Americans who are watching to think that we are careless about endangering … lives at all. But we especially are not careless about endangering American lives, as we try to carry out the policies to protect most of the country and I think we ought to go into details in closed session.”

I’m blogging this just because I’m curious about how readers balance the idea of The One — or any president for that matter — enjoying the power to assassinate U.S. citizens with the fact that Awlaki’s evidently an extremely dangerous jihadist filthbag with murderous designs on U.S. citizens himself. The obvious analogy is to a soldier who switches sides on the battlefield (a la Nidal Hasan), but that doesn’t quite work: Killing a man who’s firing on you is more a question of self-defense, which virtually no one objects to, than a matter of the laws of war. What about a guy like Awlaki who’s plotting to harm Americans but never puts himself in a position where he’s actually pointing a gun at someone? Is it okay to target him for plotting on foreign soil? (The idea of a drone strike against a homegrown terrorist plotting on U.S. soil is unthinkable, obviously.) Or should there be some sort of extra prophylactic procedural measure in the case of U.S. citizens to guarantee that they’re not wrongly targeted? One possibility would be to go to some sort of court and present evidence that the suspect has effectively revoked his citizenship by levying war against the U.S., but that would cause problems potentially in cases where the feds have to quickly. Just interested to know what readers think.

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