Anwar al-Awlaki. (Reuters/

On Sunday, The New York Times featured as a lead story in print and online a major probe of the death-by-drone of alleged terrorist and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and another man, and some of the “perils” of such drone-striking, written by its all-star team of Charlie Savage, Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane:

This account of what led to the Awlaki strike, based on interviews with three dozen current and former legal and counterterrorism officials and outside experts, fills in new details of the legal, intelligence and military challenges faced by the Obama administration in what proved to be a landmark episode in American history and law. It highlights the perils of a war conducted behind a classified veil, relying on missile strikes rarely acknowledged by the American government and complex legal justifications drafted for only a small group of officials to read.

Covered near the end: the much lesser-known killing to al-Awlaki’s son.

But the piece quickly drew criticism from some of those who have opposed elements of the targeted drone program, especially as it pertains to killing Americans.

Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian tweeted that the story deserved “contempt” and added: “How come Obama officials can run to the NYT to posthmously and anonymously prosecute Awlaki, but refuse to do that in a court of law?… Hi, I will to talk to govt officials, give them anonymity to justify govt policy, write down what they say & call it ‘journalism.’… Should the “dozens” of Obama officials who anonymously spoke to NYT about the classified Awlaki hit be prosecuted?”

The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights released this statement:

In anonymous assertions to The New York Times, current and former Obama administration officials seek to justify the killings of three US citizens even as the administration fights hard to prevent any transparency or accountability for those killings in court. This is the latest in a series of one-sided, selective disclosures that prevent meaningful public debate and legal or even political accountability for the government’s killing program, including its use against citizens.

Government officials have made serious allegations against Anwar al-Aulaqi, but allegations are not evidence, and the whole point of the Constitution’s due process clause is that a court must distinguish between the two. If the government has evidence that Al-Aulaqi posed an imminent threat at the time it killed him, it should present that evidence to a court. Officials now also anonymously assert that Samir Khan’s killing was unintended and that the killing of 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi was a mistake, even though in court filings the Obama administration refuses to acknowledge any role in those killings. In court filings made just last week, the government in essence argued, wrongly, that it has the authority to kill these three Americans without ever having to justify its actions under the Constitution in any courtroom.

They added in a release:

The ACLU and CCR are challenging the legality of the drone strike that killed Al-Aulaqi and Khan, as well as the separate strike that killed Al-Aulaqi’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, in Yemen in September and October 2011.

The ACLU is also seeking disclosure of the legal memoranda written by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel that provided justifications for the targeted killing of Al-Aulaqi, as well as records describing the factual basis for the killings of all three Americans, in a separate Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Marcy Wheeler, writing at Fire Dog Lake, compared the story to the media swallowing the “aluminum tube” claims during the runup to the Iraq war.

[E]ven in a 3,600 word story, they don’t present any evidence against the senior Awlaki that was fresher than a year old—the October 2010 toner cartridge plot—at the time the Yemeni-American was killed. (I’m not saying the government didn’t have more recent intelligence; it just doesn’t appear in this very Administration-friendly case.) Not surprisingly, then, the story completely ignores questions about the definition of “imminent threat” used in the OLC memo and whether Awlaki was an “imminent” threat when he was killed.

Read Greg Mitchell on the Dixie Chicks, who ten years ago spoke out against the invasion of Iraq and torpedoed their career.