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Scahill: John Brennan “suspected” the young Aulaqi was intentionally targeted

Jeremy Scahill’s long-awaited book “Dirty Wars” comes out today. If you live in Boston, don’t buy it yet — come hear him, Amy Goodman and Noam Chomsky talk about the issues this coming Saturday at Harvard. You can buy a copy there and meet the author. After the book event, check out his film at the Somerville Theater. Details on the screening here.

Among the incredible revelations in Scahill’s book, which charts the growth of special operations and CIA ‘dirty wars’ on multiple continents worldwide, is a section on the killing of American citizen teenager Abdulrahman al Aulaqi (or Awlawki). 

Not long ago, the New York Times published a story about the government’s killing of his father, accused al Qaeda propagandist and now deceased American Anwar al Aulaqi. In that story, the reporters publish unsourced assertions from anonymous government officials claiming that the strike that killed the young Aulaqi was a mistake:

Then, on Oct. 14, a missile apparently intended for an Egyptian Qaeda operative, Ibrahim al-Banna, hit a modest outdoor eating place in Shabwa. The intelligence was bad: Mr. Banna was not there, and among about a dozen men killed was the young Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who had no connection to terrorism and would never have been deliberately targeted.

It was a tragic error…

But was the strike that killed Abdulrahman an error? Scahill reports that at least one top level intelligence official is not so sure:

A former senior official in the Obama administration told me that after Abdulrahman’s killing, the president was “surprised and upset and wanted an explanation.” The former official, who worked on the targeted killing program, said that according to intelligence and Special Operations officials, the target of the strike was al-Banna, the AQAP propagandist. “We had no idea the kid was there. We were told al-Banna was alone,” the former official told me. Once it became clear that the teenager had been killed, he added, military and intelligence officials asserted, “It was a mistake, a bad mistake.” However, John Brennan, at the time President Obama’s senior adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security, “suspected that the kid had been killed intentionally and ordered a review. I don’t know what happened with the review.”

Brennan, who is now director of the CIA, recently answered an inquiry from the Senate Intelligence Committee on such after-strike reviews. When civilians are killed, Brennan said, “we not only take account of the human tragedy, but we also go back and review our actions.” Analysts “draw on a large body of information—human intelligence, signals intelligence, media reports, and surveillance footage—to help us make an informed determination about whether civilians were in fact killed or injured,” Brennan asserted in his written response. “In those rare instances in which civilians have been killed, after-action reviews have been conducted.” No such review of Abdulrahman’s killing has ever been made public. [My emphasis.]

So apparently John Brennan, who is now the CIA director, thought that the 16 year old from Denver was targeted intentionally. He reportedly ordered a review of the strike, to learn more about what happened and why.

But not only do we not know what that review says; we don’t know if the review ever took place. 

And anyway, if the killing was an accident, why not simply say so, and apologize to his family? Scahill:

The consensus that has emerged from various anonymous officials commenting on Abdulrahman’s killing was that it was a mistake. I asked the former senior administration official why, if that was the case, the White House didn’t publicly acknowledge it. “We killed three US citizens in a very short period,” he told me. “Two of them weren’t even targets: Samir Khan and Abdulrahman Awlaki. That doesn’t look good. It’s embarrassing.” [My emphasis.]

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