U.S. Had Every Legal Right to Kill Awlaki, Former Atty. Gen. Says

By Lucas Zellers | October 11, 2011 | 4:42 PM EDT

A screenshot of U.S.-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, from the video message posted on the Internet by the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Image: Middle East Media Research Institute)

(CNSNews.com) - Former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said Tuesday that the U.S. government had every legal right to kill Anwar Al-Awlaki -- whether he was an American citizen or not -- once he embarked on a course of making war against the United States.

Awlaki was the target of a CIA drone attack in September that killed him and another Al Qaeda leader in Yemen.

At an event Tuesday held at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., Mukasey, a former attorney general for President George W. Bush, was asked: “Does Al-Alawki’s renunciation of his American citizenship give the President the legal right to assassinate him?

Judge Mukasey replied: “I think there’s a logical fallacy in your question, which is the notion that whether you can be targeted or not has anything to do with your citizenship.  It doesn’t."

“Back during WWII, there were two groups of saboteurs – one landed off Long Island, the other off Florida," he said.  "They were eventually rounded up by the FBI and were tried before military commission on direct orders of President Roosevelt.  One of them claimed to be a US citizen, a man named Howitt."

“By the time the case came to the Supreme Court and a decision was issued, they were already dead," said Mukasey. " The Supreme Court determined that Howitt’s claim of citizenship was essentially irrelevant – that once he had decided to throw in his lot with a hostile force, to join a hostile force, whether he was a citizen or not didn’t matter.  The same is true of Al-Alawki.”

Mukasey noted that The New York Times recently published what it said are the contents of a secret legal memorandum that concluded that killing the American-born radical Muslim cleric, who was hiding in Yemen, would be legal only if it were not feasible to take him alive."

“There are a couple of things that disturb about the news and about the memo that was used to analyze this problem,” he said. “Number one: the fact that it was a newspaper obviously means that somebody at the department is running his mouth when he shouldn’t."

“Secondly, there was some distinction made in that memo, apparently, about what the rights of a U.S. citizen are in a situation like that, as opposed to the rights of somebody who is not a U.S. citizen," said Mukasey.

He continued: “Imagine a brigade of Marines confronted with an enemy force, some of whom are U.S. citizens, some of whom are not.  They’re supposed to make decisions on who they shoot and how based on whether they’re citizens or not?  It’s ridiculous.

“So, once Al-Alawki embarked on the course of conduct on which he embarked, he became a target and I think he jolly well knew it.”