The three network morning shows on Friday all highlighted the United States' success in killing terrorist Anwar al Awlaki. However, although these same programs were sensitive to the slightest possible civil rights violation by the Bush administration, they did not seemed interested the fact that Al Awlaki was an American citizen.
Good Morning America, Today and the Early Show mentioned this detail, but didn't provide any analysis or question the President's authority to make such a move. GMA's Brian Ross simply offered, "He was considered such a serious threat to the U.S. that the President had authorized the use of lethal force against him, even though he was an American citizen."
Early Show and Today simply both described al Awlaki as an "American" or "American-born." CBS's Bill Plante noted that Awlaki was "the first American who was ever placed on the CIA's kill or capture list."
Writing on ABC News.com, Jake Tapper and Jason Ryan explained:
How does President Obama have the right to target for killing a US citizen such as Anwar al-Awlaki?
That’s a good question.
As of now, the administration’s legal justification is unclear.
Needless to say, this unprecedented ruling has been severely criticized – and all the more so today, with the assassination having been carried out.
The points raised by Tapper online weren't repeated on GMA. ABC's Brian Ross gave only biographical information on al Awlaki: "Born in the United States, in New Mexico in 1971, Anwar al Awlaki went to college in Colorado before heading up mosques in San Diego and Virginia."
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In contrast, on the April 16, 2009 World News, reporter Jan Crawford covered the "chilling" revelation that detained terror suspects such as Abu Zubayda were "tortured with an insect in a confinement box" by the U.S.
A just-released report by the Media Research Center, Red, White, and Partisan, showed that journalists saw civil liberty abuses everywhere during the Bush years. On the first anniversary of 9/11, NBC reporter Jim Avila mourned:
JIM AVILA: "This is Jeanean Othman, an American of Palestinian descent. Born 42 years ago in suburban Chicago. Now worried everything she learned as an American about justice and civil rights collapsed along with New York’s Twin Towers."
In the report, the MRC's Tim Graham reminded:
On ABC’s Nightline on December 19, 2005, Terry Moran threw this hardball at Vice President Dick Cheney: “I’d like to put this personally, if I can. You’re a grandfather. I’m a father. When we look at those girls and we think that the country we’re about to pass to them is a country where the Vice President can’t say whether or not we have secret prisons around the world, whether water-boarding and mock executions is consistent with our values, and a country where the government is surveilling Americans without the warrant of a court – is that the country we want to pass on to them?”
The same networks that fretted over insect "torture" and threats to civil liberties should also follow up on the Obama administration's killing of an American citizen.
A transcript of the September 30 GMA segment, which aired at 7:03am EDT, follows:
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GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's bring in ABC's chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross. Of course, Brian, you've been tracking al Awlaki for years and his links go all the way back to 9/11. He even met with two of the 9/11 hijackers.
BRIAN ROSS: That's right, George. He was considered such a serious threat to the U.S. that the President had authorized the use of lethal force against him, even though he was an American citizen. The United States has been seeking to kill or capture al Awlaki, for almost two years.
LEON PANETTA (Secretary of Defense): Awlaki is a terrorist.
MICHAEL LEITER (National Counter Terrorism Center): Probably the most significant risk to the U.S. homeland.
ERIC HOLDER (Attorney General): We certainly want to neutralize him.
ROSS: Born in the United States, in New Mexico in 1971, Anwar al Awlaki went to college in Colorado before heading up mosques in San Diego and Virginia. He presented a calm demeanor in a 2001 Washington Post video profile.
ANWAR AL AWLAKI: I mean, Islam is a religion of peace.
ROSS: But only a year later, al Awlaki would move to Yemen, his family home and the place American authorities say he began to use his internet preaching to recruit terrorists to wage jihad against the United States.
AL AWLAKI: Never underestimate the power of fear, especially when the enemy of Allah hears Allahu Akbar.
RICHARD CLARKE: He could take to them in an American vernacular with arguments that they understood.
ROSS: U.S. authorities say the accused gunman at Fort Hood, Major Nidal Hasan, killed 13 soldiers, after al Awlaki provided religious justification for jihad in a series of E-mails. Al Awlaki was also accused of organizing the attempt to bring down an American jetliner over Detroit, Christmas day 2009. U.S. officials say the so-called underwear bomber was advised by al Awlaki, prior to the mission. And that there were many, many more drawn to al Qaeda training camps in Yemen by al Awlaki's message to do battle on the United States.
CLARKE: I think taking him out of the picture is a major achievement in terms of American security.
ROSS: In fact, even as he was in hiding, al Awlaki was preparing his latest message for al Qaeda through its monthly magazine. It showed a picture of Grand Central terminal in New York City and it was entitled, "Targeting the population of countries that are at war with the Muslims," George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Brian, because he was trying so hard to target the United States, because he had so many links to the United States, American officials are now braced for some kind of retaliation.
ROSS: Absolutely. Just as with bin Laden, there's a feeling that his followers may, in fact, carry out some sort of a retaliatory strike. Even so, it was worth taking him out. And it's a major and historic achievement in the war against al Qaeda.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You mention this is a historic achievement. And it comes on the heels of a summer where, step-by-step, person-by-person, U.S. officials, U.S. drones have taken out a number of high level al Qaeda operatives.
ROSS: Absolutely. Up and down the command structure of al Qaeda, both in Afghanistan, Pakistan and now in Yemen, senior, major figures are taken out, the most public figures. There are still operational people left. But the major leaders are, in fact, taken out. It is a huge accomplishment.