The most inhumane and tragic aspect of any war, noble or nefarious, is the reality of civilian casualties. As long as there’s been warfare, noncombatants have been caught in the crossfire, or even intentionally killed en masse to spur popular intolerance for the continuation of the war. During World War II, for example, the United States and the Allied Forces routinely decimated civilian populations, notably in Dresden, and especially in Japan where scores were intentionally annihilated, first with fire-bombings and, finally, with two atomic bombs.
No such deplorable motives can be attributed to the deaths arising from recent US military strikes, including the dreaded drone attacks abroad approved by President Obama. Recently, noncombatant deaths in war have been either accidental, or contritely admitted as unavoidable collateral damage. This doesn’t excuse it, but it lends perspective — with war, there are unintended deaths.
Such is the case with Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old son of Al-Qaida recruiter Anwar Al-Awlaki who was accidentally killed in a CIA drone strike on October 14, 2011. Based on all reliable accounts, Abdulrahman’s death was unintentional, and American officials have said the real target was Al-Qaida operative Ibrahim al-Banna. It’s unclear whether al-Banna was actually at the location and whether he was subsequently killed. But that’s a sidebar to the story of the death of Abdulrahman.
The often-repeated idea that perhaps this teenager was intentionally targeted for assassination, or perhaps that someone misled the officials who greenlit the attack, remains in the arena of speculation and conspiracy theories. For example, here’s Salon.com’s David Sirota last week:
Barack Obama extra-judicially executed Anwar al-Awlaki and then his 16-year-old son, without charging either of the two U.S. citizens with a single crime. The two were simply presumed guilty, without any evidence being officially marshaled against them.
This assumes without evidence that the president deliberately targeted Abdulrahman for assassination.
On top of this, Sirota, in a follow-up post, has drawn a direct comparison between the death of young Abdulrahman and the tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of a neighborhood-watch vigilante named George Zimmerman.
Why, you ask, is the institutionalized vigilantism that killed 16-year-old American Abdulrahman al-Awlaki at least as problematic for society as the individual vigilantism that killed 17-year-old American Trayvon Martin?
The conflation of these two deaths is simply ignorant of the circumstances of each incident. [READ MORE]