Defense Media Network

Newest Defense Media Network Promotion

Al Qaeda’s Awlaki Dead – Even When We Win, We Lose

Since U.S. special operations forces bullets ripped through Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan compound in May, the United States and its allies have decimated al Qaeda’s senior leadership. In a matter of months, the chief of Pakistan operations, three senior leaders in Yemen, al Qaeda’s deputy leader and many others have been killed.

Another high-profile assassination happened this morning when Anwar al Awlaki, the recruiter, trainer and public face of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was killed in an airstrike in Yemen. The difference between Awlaki and the other al Qaeda leaders killed this year is that Awlaki – considered by some the “most dangerous man in the world” – was an American.

Awlaki has been tied to Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called Christmas Day Bomber. His ability to inspire hate and violence made him a serious threat to U.S. security efforts, and as a result, he was the first American added to the Central Intelligence Agency’s “kill or capture” list.

Born in New Mexico, Awlaki was a religious leader and lecturer before he became a trainer and recruiter for AQAP, a lethal wing of al Qaeda responsible for numerous attempted attacks and considered by top security officials as one of the greatest terrorist threats. Some may argue Awlaki forfeited his citizenship and his life as soon as he left the United States to join his terrorist brethren in Yemen. He crossed a line from which he could never return (without serious repercussions). In some respects, Awlaki was already dead, though the looming bomb took several years to hit.

Awlaki embodied one threat al Qaeda poses – that of citizens turning against their country. He was a powerful rallying figure in al Qaeda’s efforts to recruit English-speaking Westerners. His death will undoubtedly slow AQAP’s efforts to recruit and inspire would-be terrorists, something for which we owe thanks to America’s security agencies.

Awlaki embodied one threat al Qaeda poses – that of citizens turning against their country. He was a powerful rallying figure in al Qaeda’s efforts to recruit English-speaking Westerners. His death will undoubtedly slow AQAP’s efforts to recruit and inspire would-be terrorists, something for which we owe thanks to America’s security agencies.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said after bin Laden’s death that the defeat of al Qaeda was within reach. With bin Laden, Awlaki and other al Qaeda leaders now gone (and many more likely in U.S. special operations forces and Predator UAV crosshairs), the terrorist organization and its disparate cells are against the ropes. We must commend those who fight to protect us, but we must not forget the terrible toll the war on terrorism has taken, not only the lives lost in attacks but those caught up in the struggle, whether on our side or theirs.

Celebrating the loss of human life is an insult to our species, no matter the dead’s evil actions in life. While Awlaki’s treason was unforgivable, we must not ignore the tragedy of his life. Not only did he advocate violence and murder, he was also an American casualty of the ongoing War on Terror.

In the case of Awlaki, it seems even when we win we lose. The world suffers one less terrorist, true, but it came at a cost. Al Qaeda advocates hate and death, a polar opposite to the values and mores embodied in the U.S. Constitution and laws. Reveling in Awlaki’s death betrays these morals. While it is good he can no longer help al Qaeda’s evil efforts against the global population, his death should stir some remorse for a life lost. Another American has been killed in the fight against terror. That is nothing to celebrate.

By

Justin Hienz writes on counterterrorism, violent extremism and homeland security. In addition to his journalistic...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-12529">

    Are you serious? We need to send a loud and clear message to all that conducting and terrorist acts against the United States and it’s citizens will result in a painful and very violent death. The only thing these people understand is power and the only way they will respect us is to strike them hard and fast. I don’t care that this sorry excuse for a human being wasn’t shown the love he needed in his development years. We need to send a loud and clear message by putting this punk’s head on a pike in the town square. You don’t like that? Too bad move to the middle east with the rest that share your views.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-12558">

    I took away something else from this story. First, that radical Islamic fundamentalism has managed to spread its ignorant, poisonous propaganda to America and influence even someone born in this country. Second, that as much as our initial, visceral reaction is to celebrate and gloat over Awliki’s death, the legal and Constitutional implications of an American citizen being assassinated on foreign soil rather than being captured as a criminal and brought to trial should arouse some concern. There is a huge gray area here, I know, but if we are fighting for the Constitution and American values, sometimes defending freedom of speech for example, means defending scumbag pornographers, and defending the right to peacefully assemble means letting Nazis march in Skokie, Illinois.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-12631">

    While we shoiuld never revel in the death of another human being we must also remember that we should not tolerate, to any degree, any US citizen or foreign national, who seeks to destroy American citizens (or citizens from other nations) simply because they believe we’re wrong in our way of life. Histroy has shown, time and again, that nations have had to protect themselves from the tyranny and terrorism of others. There is evil in the world and I’m overjoyed to know there are tens of thousands of American men & women who “volunteer” to fight against the efforts of the like of Anwar al-Awlaki who made his choice…poorly.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-12680">
    Steven DesJardins

    When you take up arms against the United States you renounce your citizenship. All he had to do to restore his right to a trial is to return to the United States and turn himself in. His choice was to take up arms and change his status to belligerent. Citizenship is a two way obligation, he violated his side of the relationship. He earned his fate.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-12762">

    I believe he knew and chose his fate. It seems he pissed off too many people and overstayed his welcome with us on this planet. Fuck him.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-13116">

    Anwar al-Awlaki by his actions disavowed all that this country stands for…the life, security, pursuit of happiness …,the values and mores embodied in the U.S. Constitution and laws. In doing so, he also disavowed his citizenship and the protection of life, liberty, justice and protection established in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights for the citizens of the United States.
    He became a man without a country at the moment he decided to cast his allegiance with al Qaeda and the death and destruction he planned and recruited for.
    No, Justin Hienz , an American was not lost in continung actions against Terrorism following OBAMAS’ moment of justice in the Seal Team 6 court of law….a terrorist simply committed suicide….nothing more.