Feigned Ignorance Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

A portion of a photo of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki from his Facebook memorial page.

After the US killed AQAP propagandist Samir Khan in a drone strike, the State Department made two calls to his family to express condolences. Doing so was probably the only way they could maintain the fiction his death was an accident, while still boasting about having killed Anwar al-Awlaki in the same strike. Nevertheless, the right wing has predictably gone apeshit over the apology.

Perhaps it’s because the US has seen no propaganda value in boasting about killing an American teenager. Perhaps they want to avoid similar bitching from the right.

But State appears to be adopting a different approach in the case of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year old son of Anwar al-Awlaki we killed last week. With Abdulrahman, State is feigning ignorance. (h/t JL)

We are aware of media reports that Abdulrahman al-Awlaki has been killed; however, we have not received confirmation of his death from the government of Yemen.

You see, the folks at State apparently don’t read the WaPo, much less FaceBook, and instead have to rely on getting this information from the Yemeni government we’ve surely instructed not to tell us this information. As a result, they have no way of knowing whether they’ve “accidentally” killed an American citizen too young to vote or even enlist without his dead father’s permission.

But hey! Their feigned ignorance means never having to say they’re sorry.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

14 replies
  1. allan says:

    “State Department made two calls to his family to express condolences.”

    I’m really curious what the script for such a call would be.
    How do you break the ice? By saying,`Our bad’ ?

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    An analysis that suggests this sixteen year-old was a target, but the one we apologized for was not. The nuance would impress a 16th century Jesuit, but not a Franciscan.

  3. emptywheel says:

    @earlofhuntingdon: I’m going to recommend Joby Warrick’s book again.

    He’s got a pretty detailed discussion of when they killed Beitullah Mehsud. This was back when they weren’t sure what al-Bawali was doing. But they clearly saw someone on the roof with Mehsud before they struck. But they thought, as the person was clearly ministering to Mehsud, he might be doctor–might even be al-Bawali. Though they were clearly aware that Mehsud had just gotten married and it might be his new wife.

    They decided to shoot anyway.

    FWIW, I don’t think Awlaki Jr. was the target–there were other legitimate targets there. But, particularly since the Awlaki household is no doubt tapped, they probably also had reason to know Adbulrahman was there.

  4. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: Yep. Abdulrahman had left the family compound a couple of weeks before Anwar was killed and the WaPo article states the family had pleaded with him at the hideout to return. Undoubtedly on an NSA hard drive somewhere.

  5. Mary says:

    “We are aware of media reports that Abdulrahman al-Awlaki has been killed; however, we have not received confirmation of his death from the government of Yemen.”


    So they are saying that they don’t know who their drones kill.

    Uh huh.

  6. PeasantParty says:

    Thank you for bringing this to light.

    OT: Brad Blog has some updates on the American Spy that you covered so well.

  7. prostratedragon says:

    A bad one: Stolen children in the USA.

    This story has so much emphasis on the placement of these Native American children outside of the tribal group compared to discussion of the legal process by which the grabs are authorized and supported, that I wonder whether I have missed a first installment.

    [Update: I see that there are two installments to come. Based on the summaries given, I’m still a bit curious. Nevertheless, what is presented today is very important.]

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