Get ready for the big debate again over the need to act against al-Qaeda threats and the need to afford Americans their civil rights. The last time the US targeted an American for a lethal military attack, it was Anwar al-Awlaki, who was repeatedly targeted and finally killed in a drone strike despite his status as a US citizen — and as was another American, Samir Khan, an AQ propagandist. CNN reports today that the Obama administration is debating at its “highest levels” whether to launch another military strike against an American member of al-Qaeda:
The Obama administration is in high-level discussions about staging an operation to kill an American citizen involved with al Qaeda and suspected of plotting attacks against the United States, a senior U.S. official tells CNN.
The official, who declined to disclose any specific information about the target or the country the suspect presides in, was confirming information first reported by The Associated Press.
The debate about whether to undertake a mission is being held with various commanders in the U.S. military, as well as the U.S. national security agencies. The discussion centers on the risk involved and the importance of the target.
The controversy over the use of military strikes on Americans reached a peak last year, when Rand Paul staged a Senate filibuster until the White House offered a position as to whether it could conduct such an attack on American soil. (The eventual answer: probably not.) Not too long after that, though. Eric Holder revealed that the US had targeted and killed two other Americans who were suspected of being active members of the al-Qaeda network.
Expect this to raise the question yet again. Should Americans who are suspected of joining al-Qaeda — an enemy named specifically in the Congressionally-approved authorization for use of military force — get due process in civilian courts and have an immunity from drone attack? Or better yet, why use drones rather than just make attempts first to capture the Americans in question, and get intel from them instead of killing them outright? For my money, I’d say that any American who joins al-Qaeda is signing up for warfare and not law enforcement, but that path also has significant risks, at least theoretically, for the rest of us.