Anwar al-Awlaki is a dual Yemeni-American citizen who has emerged in recent years as a leading English-language proponent of violent jihad, including explicit calls for the indiscriminate murder of Americans. According to the US government, moreover, he also has taken on an operational leadership role with the organization al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), recruiting and directing individuals to participate in specific acts of violence. Does international law permit the US government to kill al-Awlaki in these circumstances? The use of lethal force in response to terrorism—especially the use of such force by the United States and Israel—has been the subject of extensive scholarship, advocacy, and litigation over the past decade. Yet we remain far from consensus. The al-Awlaki scenario accordingly provides an occasion for fresh analysis. Part 1.2 opens with a discussion of what we know, based on the public record as reflected in media reports and court documents, about AQAP, about al-Awlaki himself, and about the US government’s purported decision to place him on a list of individuals who may be targeted with lethal force in certain circumstances. Part 1.3 explores objections founded in the UN Charter’s restraints on the use of force in international affairs, emphasizing Yemen’s potential objections under Article 2 of the Charter. Part 1.4 considers whether an attack on al-Awlaki would best be understood as governed by International Humanitarian Law (IHL) or International Human Rights Law (IHRL), and whether and when either body of law would actually permit the use of lethal force.
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