On October 14, 2011, a U.S. drone killed a 16-year-old American citizen while he was eating dinner in a restaurant in Yemen.
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Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was born in Denver, Colorado and went to live with his grandfather in Yemen at the age of 7. His grandfather described him as “a typical teenager — he watched ‘The Simpsons,’ listened to Snoop Dogg, read ‘Harry Potter’ and had a Facebook page with many friends.”
Nasser al-Awlaki said his grandson, “had a mop of curly hair, glasses like me and a wide, goofy smile.”
Or at least he did until his government killed him.
Judge David Barron authored the memo that gave the legal justification for assassinating, without trial, American citizens suspected of terrorism. Abdulrahman’s father, Anwar al-Awlaki, was also a U.S. citizen killed weeks prior by an American drone.
Anwar al-Awlaki had a history of anti-American extremist activity. It is highly likely that he is every bit the terrorist he was accused of being and which made him a target. The recent debate over whether David Barron should be confirmed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals—the second highest court in the land—has largely centered on whether allegedly traitorous American citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki deserve due process.
That debate will, and must, continue.
But to sharpen the debate, let us focus on Abdulrahman al-Awlaki alone, who is too often mentioned as an aside in this discussion. Like his father, Abdulrahman was never charged with a crime. Unlike his father, there is no explanation or real tangible public evidence as to why he was killed.
Abdulrahman’s grandfather wrote in July 2013 in the New York Times:
The United States government has refused to explain why Abdulrahman was killed. It was not until May of this year that the Obama administration, in a supposed effort to be more transparent, publicly acknowledged what the world already knew — that it was responsible for his death.
The attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., said only that Abdulrahman was not “specifically targeted,” raising more questions than he answered.
Nasser al-Awlaki would add, “My grandson was killed by his own government. The Obama administration must answer for its actions and be held accountable.”
This week, Senator Rand Paul delivered a 30-minute speech on the senate floor trying to hold this administration accountable for Abdulrahman’s killing, and other citizens, without due process. Paul opposed Barron’s nomination because his memo gave legal justification for something that is illegal under the U.S. Constitution.
Paul wrote in an op-ed in the Boston Herald Tuesday “Giving a lifetime appointment to a lawyer who believes that great constitutional questions can be decided in secret, by one branch of government, is a mistake.” Conor Friedersdorf wrote at The Atlantic on Thursday, “A judge who enabled the Obama administration’s extrajudicial killing of American citizens is one vote away from a lifetime job interpreting the Constitution.”
Now, David Barron has now been confirmed to do precisely that.
When Obama’s senior adviser Robert Gibbs was asked last year why Abdulrahman was assassinated, Gibbs replied that the teenager should have picked a “more responsible father.”
And we should’ve picked a far more responsible judge.
Or, as Abdulrahman’s grandfather puts it, “The government has killed a 16-year-old American boy. Shouldn’t it at least have to explain why?”
Disclosure: I co-authored Senator Rand Paul’s 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington.