One of the main arguments against the Obama plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and the president’s attempts to bring “justice” to terrorists in the civilian courts is that upon release, these individuals become doubly dangerous. (We know this from Bush era records we obtained from the Obama administration.)
According to records recently obtained by Judicial Watch, one of the beneficiaries of the government’s “catch and release” program for terrorists was none other than Anwar al-Aulaqi, the U.S. citizen assassinated by a U.S. drone on September 30, 2011.
You may recall that in 2010, President Obama reportedly authorized the assassination of al-Aulaqi, the first American citizen added to the government’s “capture or kill” list, describing the radical Muslim Cleric as “chief of external operations for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).” (The Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice had previously determined that targeting and killing of U.S. citizens overseas was legal under domestic and international law.)
The heavily redacted documents received in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Judicial Watch on September 30, 2011, show that the known terrorist had been in custody and that the Obama State Department hatched an incredible plan to invite him to one of our embassies. The following are highlights from the records:
- The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, was asked on March 24, 2011, to issue a communication to al-Aulaqi, requesting him to “appear in person” to pick up an important letter at the “post.” The letter issued by the embassy, which included a partial address for al-Aulaqi, was a revocation of his passport: “The Department?s [sic] action is based upon a determination by the Secretary that Mr. al-Aulaqi [sic] activities abroad are causing and/or likely to cause serious damage to the national security or the foreign policy of the United States.” The embassy was instructed not to inform al-Aulaqi when he came to the embassy that the “important letter” was a passport revocation.
- The documents include two “Privacy Act Release Forms” issued by the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, signed by al-Aulaqi. One was dated November 14, 2006, and the other July 2, 2007 –which indicates that he was held for at least eight months. (Press reports had indicated that al-Aulaqi’s arrest was in relation to an al-Qaeda plot to kidnap a U.S. government official.) The documents do not show how long al-Aulaqi was detained or why he was released.
- A September 30, 2011, email from Stephanie A. Bruce, Consular Section Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa to Elizabeth L. Perry, Team Lead for CA/OCS/ACS/NESCA at the State Department, included the following statement: "Elizabeth, I wanted to let you know that the Yemeni Defense Ministry reported that AMCIT Anwar al-AwLaki [sic] was killed in Yemen today." Except for the added observation, "The statement is being cited in international and regional press reports," the rest of the email is redacted.
- Documents from a related FOIA request that was submitted on October 26, 2011, include records concerning the death of Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi, Anwar al-Aulaqi’s son, who was killed on October 14, 2011. Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi’s death certificate was recorded on November 14, 2011. He is noted on the death certificate as being the 16-year-old son of Anwar al-Aulaqi. The documents also include a "Report of Death of American Citizen Abroad" dated December 20, 2011. The cause of Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi’s death on the form is "unknown.” Press reports indicate Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi was born in Denver, Colorado, and was killed by a U.S. drone strike two weeks after his father was killed.
In addition to the arrest noted by the documents in 2006 and 2007, Anwar al-Aulaqi was detained at New York’s JFK airport on October 10, 2002, under a warrant for passport fraud, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. However, the FBI ordered al-Aulaqi’s release, even though the arrest warrant was still active at the time of his detention as reported by the Fox News Channel’s Catherine Herridge. Once released, al-Aulaqi then took a flight to Washington, DC, and eventually returned to Yemen.
And how dangerous was he?
Since September 2009, according to the James Baker III Institute for Public Policy, 26 terrorism cases have been tied to al-Aulaqi, including an association with blind sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, currently in prison for his role in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Anwar al-Aulaqi was also known to have been in email contact (19 email exchanges) with Major Nidal Hasan, charged with 13 murders during the Fort Hood massacre on November 5, 2009, and allegedly had contacts with at least three of the terrorists who carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
So allow me to sum up what these records and reporting detail. The Bush administration had Anwar al-Aulaqi in custody. Then it released him. The Obama administration tried to revoke his passport and concocted some Keystone Cop scheme to get him to come to the embassy for notification. (I mean, the idea of inviting al-Aulaqi – a known terrorist – to our embassy in Yemen in order to revoke his passport is beyond belief.) Then President Obama makes the unprecedented decision to assassinate him via drone, later killing his son as well.
Look, there aren’t many people who will mourn the killing of this terrorist. But that’s not the point of this story. The point is that the federal government (under both Bush and Obama) bungled attempts to bring justice to terrorists, placing the American people at risk.
Anwar al-Aulaqi is just one high-profile example. How many other terrorists have benefited from the incompetence and permissiveness of our government? How many more drones will have to be sent to clean up the mess?
Again, we should all give kudos to Catherine Herridge of the Fox News Channel for some excellent reporting on al-Aulaqi, a topic that has been largely ignored by other so-called mainstream press outlets.
Our disclosures this week led to some tough questions for the Obama State Department. According Josh Gerstein of Politico:
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland indicated Wednesday that the embassy did reach out to Al-Awlaki, but he never responded.
"He chose not to answer our request for him to come to the embassy," Nuland said at the daily press briefing. She said that had he come in officials planned to offer him a "one-way passport back to the United States" to face criminal charges. She didn't specify the charges.
Nuland did not respond directly to a provocative question from the Associated Press's Matthew Lee about whether the U.S. believes it would have had the legal right to kill Al-Awlaki on the spot.
"Are you obligated not to kill someone who is responding to such an invitation?" Lee asked.
"I'm not going to entertain the notion that we would be calling him to the embassy for that purpose," Nuland replied.