Washington’s long hand
There is ample evidence to suggest that the publicity surrounding the killing of Al-Awlaki has greatly exaggerated his political importance and is an attempt to cover up the declining influence of the US in the Islamic world. The US State Department’s declaration of a major victory serves to exaggerate US military capacity to defeat its adversaries. The assassination serves to justify Obama’s arbitrary use of death squads to execute overseas US critics and adversaries by executive fiat, denying the accused elementary judicial protections.
Given the paucity of evidence demonstrating Al-Awlaki’s political and ideological influence among the mass movements in North Africa, the Middle East or Asia, the US intelligence agencies claim his “real influence was among English-speaking jihadi, some of whom he groomed personally to carry out attacks on the US.” In other words, Washington’s casting Al-Awlaki as an “important threat” revolves around his speeches and writings, since he had no operational role in organising suicide bomb attacks -- or at least no concrete evidence has been presented up to now.
The intelligence agencies “suspect” he was involved in the plot that dispatched bombs in cargo aircraft from Yemen to Chicago in October 2010. US intelligence claims he provided a “theological justification” via e-mail for US army Major Nidal Malik’s killing of 13 people at the Fort Hood military base. In other words, like many US philosophical writers and legal experts such as Princeton University’s Michael Walzer and Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz, Al-Awlaki discussed “just wars” and the “right” of violent action. If political writings and speeches of publicists are cited by an assassin as the bases for their actions, should the White House execute leading US Islamophobes like Marilyn Geller and Daniel Pipes, cited as inspiration by Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Brevik? Or does their Zionist affiliation provide them with immunity from US Navy Seal assaults and drone missiles?
Even assuming that the unsubstantiated “suspicions” of the CIA, the British agency MI6 and the Al-Qaeda “experts” are correct and Al-Awlaki had a direct or indirect hand in “terrorist action” against the US, these activities were absurdly amateurish and abject failures, certainly not a serious threat to security. The “underwear bomber” Omar Farouk Abdel-Mutallab’s effort to ignite bomb materials on a flight to Detroit in December 2009 is one example. Likewise, the bombs dispatched in cargo aircraft from Yemen to Chicago in October 2010 were another bungled job.
If anything, the Yemeni AQAP’s hapless operational planning has served to highlight its technical incompetence.
In fact, according to Abdel-Mutallab’s own admission, published on the US TV channel NBC News at the time, Al-Awlaki played no role in the planning or execution of the bomb attack. He merely served to refer Abdel-Mutallab to the Al-Qaeda organisation.
Clearly, Al-Awlaki was a minor figure in Yemen’s political struggles.
He was a propagandist of little influence in the mass movements during the “Arab Spring”. He was an inept recruiter of English- speaking would-be bombers. The claims that he planned and “hatched” two bomb plots, reported earlier this month in the Financial Times, are refuted by the confession of one bomber and the absence of any corroboratory evidence regarding the failed cargo bombs.
The mass media inflates the importance of Al-Awlaki to the stature of a major Al-Qaeda leader and subsequently his killing as a “major psychological blow” to worldwide jihadists. This claim has no substance. But the puff pieces do have a very important propaganda purpose. Worse still, the killing of Al-Awlaki provides a justification for extra-judicial state assassinations of ideological critics of Anglo-American leaders engaged in bloody colonial wars.
Let us be absolutely clear what the larger implications are of political murder by executive fiat. If the president can order the murder of a dual American-Yemeni citizen abroad on the basis of his ideological- theological beliefs, what is to stop him from ordering the same in the US? If he uses arbitrary violence to compensate for diplomatic failure abroad, what is to stop him from declaring a “heightened internal security threat” in order to suspend remaining freedoms at home and to round up critics?
The writer is a former professor of sociology at Binghamton University, New York.