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Interview: Dr. Nasser Al-Awlaqi on the killing of his son, Anwar, and his grandson

National Yemen

Dr. Nasser Al-Awlaqi

By NY Staff

Dr. Nasser Al-Awlaqi received his PhD from Nebraska University in the United States and worked at Minnesota University from1975 through 1977. He then returned to Yemen, where he was appointed Minister of Agriculture and, later, the president of Sana’a University. Al-Awlaqi was also one of the founders of the General People’s Congress (GPC) party.

After both his son Anwar and nephew Ahmed Abdurrahman were killed by the U.S. government – on September 30, 2011 and October 14, 2011, respectively – Nasser Al-Awlaqi has sought justice from the U.S. judiciary system. However, if his case were heard, it would effectively serve to call into question the legitimacy of military actions and the use of drone strikes in Yemen and in the larger U.S. ‘war’ against terrorism.

In the interview that follows, Dr. Al-Awlaqi speaks about his efforts and experiences in the past year.

Q:  You’ve reported that you brought the case of Anwar’s murder to a court; was it an international or American court?

A:  On September 30th, 2011, the U.S. committed a crime by killing one of its citizens using drones, striking the car in which Anwar and three of his friends were in while in Jaouf governorate. The attack was launched as the victims were preparing for the Friday prayer. With regard to the court, I received a call from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and from the Center for Constitutional Rights; both of which condemned the incident. They also required me to raise the case in courts which specialize in cases against the U.S. government. “The crime of killing Anwar and his friends was outside the Law, and contradicts the U.S. constitution.”

Q:  How far have you reached in the case?

A:  We raised the issue three months ago, but it has yet to be resolved until now. Raising the case coincided with a large media campaign which was adopted by American newspapers, NGOs and law professors who condemned the crime. Some lawyers say the case may reach the Supreme Court, which is the highest judiciary authority in the U.S.

Q:  Have U.S. authorities responded to you?

A:  It’s illogical to expect to receive responses from the U.S. authorities, who directed the targeting and killing of Sheikh Anwar Al-Awlaqi. On the contrary, when I raised the issue in 2010 to prevent the decision to target Anwar which was issued by President Obama, the U.S. government hired a number of lawyers to justify their decision and refused to provide any details on the topic; they said I didn’t have the legitimacy to defend Anwar.

Q: Are there not international courts which can receive similar cases?

A:  Yes, there are; but the U.S. authorities consider themselves above international law and also are not a member of the international criminal court. I watched an interview of the head of the international criminal court, and he openly stated that the killing of Anwar Al-Awlaqi was an action outside the framework of international law.

Q:  Why doesn’t the Yemeni Government raise the case, as Anwar is a Yemeni citizen?

A:  Unfortunately, the Yemeni government took its part in the crime by providing information to the Americans. There was a deal between Yemeni and U.S. intelligence, with the former assigned to provide a daily report to the latter on Anwar’s activities and movements. The Yemeni government did not apologize for the killing of Anwar and innocent civilians – who continue to be killed by drones. They don’t mind such crimes.

Q:  Why don’t you sue the Yemeni government if, as you say, it’s a partner in these crimes?

A:  We have this idea under consideration and will carry it out once we find a fair judiciary system different from the one we have.

Q:  Does American law state that U.S. authorities have the right to undertake such procedures for particular reasons?

A:  As I said previously, the U.S. authorities consider themselves above the law and use all legal measures to account for their actions. President Obama justified his decision to kill Sheikh Anwar Al-Awlaqi by saying that he presented an imminent danger to the security of the U.S. and its people. In fact, he was just an Islamic scholar who used the internet in his work. I believe that the main reason for the killing of Anwar was his strong ability to deliver his message to Muslims speaking English all over the world. This agitated the U.S. authorities and the west in general, and so the U.S. and western intelligence decided to kill Anwar. They thought that Muslims would forget him, but surfing the net proves the opposite. Videos of Anwar have increased to more than 11,000, which indicates that the west failed to stop his work. “Anwar bothered us alive, and continues to bother us after being killed,” said an American officer.

Q:  The U.S. administration stated that they carried out the operation after the Justice Department approved it, based on studies undertake by legal professors.

A:  Unfortunately, the U.S. authorities headed by Obama ignored the law and justified the killing of a U.S. citizen – for weak reasons which they couldn’t even explain to the public. Regarding the issue of the legal study conducted by the U.S. Justice Department, I would recommend reading an article by one of the most prominent lawyers, Jonathan Trolley, whose article was published in Foreign Policy. In the article, he talked about a speech by the U.S. Minister of Justice, who said the U.S. government has the right to kill any of its citizens if he is considered a danger to U.S. security.

Q:  Have you had a look at the study?

A:  We could not, as it remains confidential, and because President Obama and the Minister of Justice refuse to reveal its contents.

Q:  How can you sue them when there is a law that enables them to go through with such procedures?

A:  A question that can be added to this good question is what alternatives do I have? Due to the fact that my government is a partner in crime, and with the absence of an imminent judiciary system in Yemen and because America doesn’t respect international law, I found it would be better to proceed with the U.S. justice system whatever the results might be. I will at least be able to present and describe the heinous crime of the killing of my son and grandson.

Q:  Aren’t you afraid that you may win the case for your grandson but lose that for your son?

As a matter of fact, I’ve talked for so long about this topic with lawyers and we’ve finally agreed to raise the case of three: Anwar, Abdurrahman and Sameer Khan, who is a U.S. citizen, as one case. The case will be raised based upon the fact that they were killed outside the framework of the law, they were killed in a country that isn’t at war with the U.S., and they weren’t charged with any crimes.

Q:  Do you hope to find justice through the American judicial system?

A:  I believe that U.S. judiciary system has a chance to be eminent and apart from government interferences and justifications for protecting national security. The next weeks will prove whether I’m right or wrong.

Q:  Were you ever advised to abandon the case to avoid being accused of involvement in terrorism?

A:  Not at all; especially since this is a lawful right and has no relation to terrorism. Laws around the whole world enable individuals and groups to raise cases to courts to defend their relatives in cases similar to mine.

Q:  Did you take any action when Anwar’s name was added to the wanted list?

A:  When I read that President Obama directed the targeting and killing of Anwar, I immediately wrote a letter to President Obama condemning his orders. I told him that he was contradicting the law and constitution and requested that he stop targeting my son.

A:  The letter was later published on the CNN channel and many other media outlets around the world. Despite the attention it got, the U.S. government did not respond. It was later revealed that the U.S. wanted to kill Anwar whatever their results were. Obama made a decision he wasn’t willing to change, a decision he said was easy to make.

Q:  Did you contact Sheikh Anwar to discuss the issue with him?

A:  I did not contact Anwar to discuss either this issue or any other. The last time I met him was in April 2009, when I visited him in Shabwa governorate as former president Ali Saleh requested. He wanted me to convince Anwar to come back to live in Sana’a; Anwar refused to do so, as Rashad Al-Masry, interior minister at the time, had directed security to arrest Anwar for no reason. Anwar said he was free to live anywhere he wanted in Yemen and that he had committed no error.

Q:  Back to 2011. A Yemeni court sentenced Anwar for ten years in jail after being accused of inciting the murder a French citizen in Yemen. Did the court find any proof of this?

A:  As a matter of fact, I ignored the court sentence, didn’t attend any of the meetings, and didn’t hire lawyers, as I knew that the whole case was fabricated. This was also mentioned by the lawyer hired by the court to defend Anwar when he said the whole thing was a matter of fabrication.

Q:  Aside from the legal position, you stated earlier that the former president swore he had nothing to do with Anwar’s murder; do you believe him?

A:  Regarding this matter, I had a relationship with the former president for more than three decades and it was built on mutual respect. When Anwar was arrested in 2006, the relationship did not remain the same. Saleh decided to release Anwar in 2007, which was against the Americans’ desire. Without a doubt, Saleh made use of Anwar’s murder, as U.S. aid to Yemen increased to $150 million. Regarding the issue of Anwar’s murder, the former president received treatment in Saudi Arabia after the assassination attempt. Anwar was killed on September 30th, a week after Saleh returned from Saudia Arabia. Only God knows whether he had something to do with Anwar’s murder. What I am sure of is that security forces were monitoring Anwar’s movements with full cooperation with U.S. intelligence.

Q:  You had a talk with the former president about Anwar. What did you talk about?

A:  I did talk on the phone with Ali Saleh about Anwar and in meetings I had with him. He wanted Anwar to surrender to the Yemeni authorities after the incident of the America officer who killed a number of other American officers and who accused Anwar of having a relationship with him. Ali Saleh swore to me that he wouldn’t hand him over to the U.S. authorities no matter what they offered him, because the constitution wouldn’t allow him to do so.  I doubted his intentions and goals, but Anwar refused to surrender, saying that he had committed no crime. Saleh seemed upset, but I think it was because of U.S. pressures on him.

Q:  Why do you think the JMP (Joint Meeting Parties) didn’t condemn the murder of Anwar and his son while they strongly condemned the killing of Sheikh Abu-Ali Al-Harethy in 2002?

A:  Before answering this question, I would like to talk about my relationship with the JMP. I published a long article that was similar to a roadmap for Ali Saleh after the 2006 elections for fixing the situation in Yemen. I noted that Saleh had a historical chance to change his methods and start constructing the lawful state Yemenis had been looking for.

One year after, I started to feel disappointed as I saw that the GPC party hadn’t changed its policies. So I knew that no change would take place. Saleh allowed corrupt people to play with the state’s resources and so corruption invaded the country. Therefore, I suspended my activities with the GPC Party and didn’t attend any meetings.

In 2008, I received a call from the JMP, who required me to participate in the National Dialogue, saying it would include all political powers – and this was what I did, with a number of my colleagues from the GPC. I was elected to be among those on the Dialogue Committee – which included secretary generals of the JMP – and I was elected President of the Economy and Services Committee. The target was to find a national savings project for Yemen, with participation of all political and social forces. I kept working with the JMP until the eruption of the Arab Spring revolutions and had a role at the Change Square in Sana’a, as I delivered speeches on the importance of having a real revolution in Yemen to achieve a lawful state. Unfortunately, the goals of revolution were not achieved; rather, a political resolution dependent on the GCC initiative.

When Anwar was killed, all political sides were in dispute and Sana’a was divided between the conflicted parties. I received consolation at my home and by phone. I appreciated the difficulty of contacting for some political friends, but what I didn’t understand was the JMP’s attitude in response to what happened to Anwar, his son and my nephew. For example, Mohammed Qahtan strongly condemned the murder of the American teacher in Taiz governorate, saying it aimed to destroy the reputation of Taizi people. Though I also condemn the crime, my question is, why didn’t he condemn the operation that killed Abdurrahman and Ahmed Abdurrahman on October 14th, 2011. What was more shameful was the article published by “Al-Sahoua” newspaper, entitled Seven Al-Qaeda militants killed, including Al-Awlaqi’s son, in air strike in Shabwa governorate.” They added this to their website, that Abdurrahman was an active member of the organization, and that he was 21 years old. They must have taken this information from U.S. intelligence.

What is worse is that the Assistant Secretary General of the Islah party, Mohammed Al-Sa’ady, stated that the Islah party didn’t condemn the murder of Anwar Al-Awlaqi, and that the party was not required to take positions regarding anything that takes place. But why did they speak about the killing of Abu-Ali Al-Harethy by a U.S. plane when he was the top man in the Al-Qaeda organization? The JMP didn’t speak about the killing of Abdurrahman even though he was only 14 years old, and despite the many activities undertaken by a number of activists, including Rana Jarhoom, Dr. Houria Mashhoor’s niece.

Q:  Abdurrahman was killed fifteen days after his father was killed. Do you think he was killed by mistake?

A:  The truth is that the Americans published false information, including that Abdurrahman was 16 and that they were targeting another person named Ibrahim Al-Banna. We don’t know the real reason up until now, and the case is still in court. I hope that the judge demands that U.S. authorities provide correct information related to the crime of killing Anwar and the others.

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