Trying to help foreigners understand America, the Gummint pays for some of them to study in the US as Fulbright scholars. Nasser al-Awlaki and his wife came from Yemen in 1971 on a Fulbright to study agricultural economics. He got an MA from UNM, then a Ph.D. from Nebraska, then taught at Meenasotta for a couple of years. Almost immediately, he and the missus had a child. They named the sprout Anwar al-Awlaki. Having been born in the USA, Anwar was an American citizen. In 1978 the family returned to Yemen.
To be perfectly honest, the goat pizza available in Yemen paled in comparison to what could be had in the States. In 1990, Anwar al-Awlaki started in at Colorado State University. One summer he spent the break fighting in Afghanistan. (Must have made for interesting conversation in the dorm that Fall. “So, Bill, what did you do this summer? I picked lettuce on my uncle’s farm. Hoo-whee, we had some wild times on Saturday night. How ‘bout you Anne-War? Well, I ambushed opposing mujahedeen, then walked around shooting the wounded in the head.”) Anyway, by 1994 he got a B.S. in Civil Engineering and was a part-time imam in a mosque in Denver.
In 1996 he landed a job as an imam in San Diego. Here he got an M.A. in Educational Leadership from SDSU. However, Shaitan (in the form of babes in bikinis) beset him: he got hauled in for soliciting prostitutes a couple of times. In 1999 the EffaBeeEye came around, wanting to know if he had any ties to the “blind sheikh” who had organized the 1993 WTC truck bombing or to the then-munchkin terrorist Osama bin Laden. He said “no” and that was good enough for them. Meanwhile, a couple of the future 9/11 guys were attending services at his mosque. In 2000 he landed a job as an imam at a big mosque in northern Virginia. (We can’t even keep alcoholic child-molesters from becoming school bus drivers, so why blame a mosque for hiring an imam who can’t keep his pants on?) During 2001 he worked toward a doctorate in Human Resources Development at George Washington University’s Education School. (He actually didn’t have much in the way of Islamic scholarly credentials, so his charismatic appeal to ignorant fanatics seems to arisen from what he picked up in American Ed. Schools.)
Then 9/11 came along. “The US was at war with al-Qaeda, not with Islam.” So, Awlaki got invited to a lunch at what was left of the Pentagon. They probably served pork chops or crab cakes, because the next thing you know (March 2002), he was on a plane to Yemen. From 2002 to 2004 he bounced between Yemen, the US, and the UK as an advocate of jihad.
After a variety of adventures, Awlaki settled down as a long-distance recruiter and inciter of jihadis. His fluent English and knowledge of American society, his charismatic personality, and his ease in using modern media made him a prominent figure despite hiding out in a remote area of one of the most backward places on Earth. The London subway bombers, the Times Square bomber, the Fort Hood shooter, and many others all had his sermons on their computers or had exchanged messages with him. Since he has said that “jihad against America is binding upon myself, just as it is binding upon every other able Muslim,” he probably wasn’t trying to calm them down. When the Underwear Bomber said that Awlaki helped train him for his mission, the government got fed up and decided to kill him. On 9/30/11 they did.
Can the United States execute an American citizen without trial, without even producing the evidence upon which the decision to kill him is based? Would you really want to establish the legal precedent? Talk about “death panels”! So, civil libertarians opposed the execution. On the other hand, some of them say the US can’t “execute” anyone anywhere without trial. It will be hard to fight a war on terrorism with those hand-cuffs in place. What to do?