Mark Mazzetti, Charlie Savage, and Scott Shane team up to provide the government’s best case — and at times, an irresponsibly credulous one — for the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and the collateral deaths of Samir Khan and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.
Yet even in a 3,600 word story, they don’t present any evidence against the senior Awlaki that was fresher than a year old — the October 2010 toner cartridge plot — at the time the Yemeni-American was killed. (I’m not saying the government didn’t have more recent intelligence; it just doesn’t appear in this very Administration-friendly case.) Not surprisingly, then, the story completely ignores questions about the definition of “imminent threat” used in the OLC memo and whether Awlaki was an “imminent” threat when he was killed.
The “linked in various ways” standard for killing Americans
Moreover, the case they do present has various weaknesses.
The story provides a fair amount of space to Awlaki’s celebration of the Nidal Hasan attack (though it does make it clear Awlaki did not respond enthusiastically to Hasan’s queries before the attack).
Investigators quickly discovered that the major had exchanged e-mails with Mr. Awlaki, though the cleric’s replies had been cautious and noncommittal. But four days after the shootings, the cleric removed any doubt about where he stood.
“Nidal Hassan is a hero,” he wrote on his widely read blog. “He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people.”
It uses far vaguer language to describe Awlaki’s role in the Faisal Shahzad and toner cartridge plots.
Meanwhile, attacks linked in various ways to Mr. Awlaki continued to mount, including the attempted car bombing of Times Square in May 2010 by Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen who had reached out to the preacher on the Internet, and the attempted bombing by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula of cargo planes bound for the United States that October.
“Linked in various ways” seems to be the new standard for killing an American. That, in spite of the fact that Shahzad’s tie to Awlaki seems to be the same Hasan had: an inspiration, but not any involvement in the plot. And while Awlaki is reported to have had some role in the toner cartridge plot, reports from Saudi infiltrator Jabir al-Fayfi apparently fingered others in AQAP as the chief plotters.
I guess that would be too much nuance to include in a 3,600 word article.
NYT doesn’t care about problems with the Abu Tarak explanation
Which leaves the UndieBomb attack as the sole attack in which the NYT presents evidence about Awlaki’s direct role. But there’s a problem with their claims there, too.
The would-be underwear bomber told F.B.I. agents that after he went to Yemen and tracked down Mr. Awlaki, his online hero, the cleric had discussed “martyrdom and jihad” with him, approved him for a suicide mission, helped him prepare a martyrdom video and directed him to detonate his bomb over United States territory, according to court documents.
In his initial 50-minute interrogation on Dec. 25, 2009, before he stopped speaking for a month, Mr. Abdulmutallab said he had been sent by a terrorist named Abu Tarek, although intelligence agencies quickly found indications that Mr. Awlaki was probably involved. When Mr. Abdulmutallab resumed cooperating with interrogators in late January, an official said, he admitted that “Abu Tarek” was Mr. Awlaki. With the Nigerian’s statements, American officials had witness confirmation that Mr. Awlaki was clearly a direct plotter, no longer just a dangerous propagandist.
I don’t doubt that Awlaki was directly involved in this attack in some way. And I got the same explanation about Abu Tarak from “an official” back when I first noted the discrepancy between DOJ’s public claims (thanks for not crediting me on that one, NYT boys). But either Abdulmutallab said something beyond “Abu Tarak was Awlaki,” or the entire explanation is not credible.
That’s because Abdulmutallab’s initial interrogation — according to the version presented by Jonathan Tukel in the opening arguments of Abdulmutallab’s trial — said Abu Tarak did the following:
- Spoke daily with Abdulmutallab about jihad and martyrdom
- Suggested to Abdulmutallab that he become involved in a plane attack against the United States aircraft
- Gave him training in detonating the bomb
- Told him to make sure he attacked a U.S. aircraft and make sure the attack takes place over the United States
Yet according to the version of Abdulmutallab’s interrogation presented in his sentencing memo, here’s who did those things:
- Awlaki and Abdulmutallab discussed martyrdom and jihad
- Defendant and Ibrahim Al Asiri discussed defendant’s desire to commit an act of jihad; Asiri discussed a plan for a martyrdom mission with Awlaki, who gave it final approval
- Asiri trained defendant in the use of the bomb
- Awlaki instructed defendant that the only requirements were that the attack be on a U.S. airliner, and that the attack take place over U.S. soil