• You are Not a Person, Anwar al-Awlaki

    March 13, 2013

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Military

    This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

    Though I spent 24 years working for the State Department as a Consular Officer, charged in part with the issuance and (very rarely) revocation of U.S. passports, there is still room to learn something new: The Government of the United States can, and apparently does, take away passports from American Citizens because “The Secretary of State determines that the applicant’s activities abroad are causing or are likely to cause serious damage to the national security or the foreign policy of the United States.”

    If the government feels it is against its interest for you to have a passport and thus the freedom to travel, to depart the United States if you wish to, it will just take it away. The law allows them to do this prospectively, the “or are likely to cause…” part of the law, meaning you don’t need to have done anything. The government just needs to decide that you might.

    We learned via a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act request that prior to having him and his 16 year old son away blown away via drone in 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton secretly revoked the passport of Anwar al-Awlaki, al Qaeda propagandist and U.S. Citizen. The State Department even tried to invite al-Awlaki into the U.S. Embassy in Yemen so they could hand him a letter announcing the revocation and so that they could encourage him to return to the U.S. to face charges. Six months later (al-Awlaki never dropped by the Embassy, by the way), the U.S. Government simply killed him. Two weeks after that it killed his 16 year old son.

    I have been unable to track down many recent examples where the U.S. Government revoked the passport of an American simply because his/her presence abroad bothered– or might bother– the Secretary of State. In fact, the only example I was able to locate was that of infamous ex-CIA officer Phillip Agee, who in the 1970’s exposed CIA officers identities. It was Agee’s case that prompted a Supreme Court review of the Department of State’s ability to revoke passports simply because the government didn’t want you to travel abroad (the Supreme’s upheld the government’s ability to do so based on a 1926 law after lower courts said no. The Court stated that “The right to hold a passport is subordinate to national security and foreign policy considerations.”)

    Agee was a naughty boy. According to the Supreme Court:

    In 1974, Agee called a press conference in London to announce his “campaign to fight the United States CIA wherever it is operating. He declared his intent “to expose CIA officers and agents and to take the measures necessary to drive them out of the countries where they are operating.” Since 1974, Agee has, by his own assertion, devoted consistent effort to that program, and he has traveled extensively in other countries in order to carry it out. To identify CIA personnel in a particular country, Agee goes to the target country and consults sources in local diplomatic circles whom he knows from his prior service in the United States Government. He recruits collaborators and trains them in clandestine techniques designed to expose the “cover” of CIA employees and sources. Agee and his collaborators have repeatedly and publicly identified individuals and organizations located in foreign countries as undercover CIA agents, employees, or sources. The record reveals that the identifications divulge classified information, violate Agee’s express contract not to make any public statements about Agency matters without prior clearance by the Agency, have prejudiced the ability of the United States to obtain intelligence, and have been followed by episodes of violence against the persons and organizations identified.

    In Anwar Al-Awlaki’s case, the Government has not made much of a case (never mind for the passport, remember he was murdered by a drone). In fact, officially, we do not know why al-Awlaki was killed at all, or under what laws or by what decision process. Some reports tie him to the failed idiot underwear bomber, but being part of a failed plot seems not to rise to the usual standard for capital punishment. It is all secret.

    The Government of the United States executed one of its own citizens abroad without any form of due process. This is generally seen as a no-no as far as the Bill of Rights goes. The silly old Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees “no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law” and includes no exceptions for war, terrorism, or being a really bad human being.

    Could the passport revocation have been simply a ruse, a bureaucratic CYA attempt at providing some sort of illusion of “due process?” Could al-Awlaki’s not dropping by the U.S. Embassy to chat about his passport have been a veiled attempt to justify his killing in that he was thus not able to be arrested? Or was the passport revocation just a simple act of dehumanizing someone to make killing him that much more palatable?

    We’ll never know.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...


      And that ain’t all:

      Per Emptywheel, ” Robert Mueller had a curious comment in his discussion about the ongoing al Qaeda threat. He said that airplane plots remain a threat. The individuals responsible for previous airline attempts still out there, he said.

      Um, I thought we had killed at least one individual responsible for previous airline attempts in September 2011. You mean Anwar al-Awlaki wasn’t the mastermind of the UndieBomb threat?

      Of course not: Ibrahim al-Asiri was the operational mastermind of it (or maybe Abu Tarak!). Which is why we had another purported attempt last year, more than six months after Awlaki died.

      In any case, Mueller’s comment seems to be an at least implicit admission that the Administration oversold Awlaki’s single centrality to the first UndieBomb plot.”

      Wait, what?

      03/13/13 2:12 PM | Comment Link

    • B. Beardslee said...


      For the sake of accuracy, per Section 349 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1481), he could have lost his citizenship in any number of ways. Furthermore, he was informed of this by the invitation to the embassy. So, while I agree with many of your points, this important aspect should be considered.

      03/13/13 4:46 PM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...


      The full FOIA made clear the reason was as cited. Inviting the passport holder in to the embassy is an old trick used to try and physically seize the passport.

      03/13/13 4:58 PM | Comment Link

    • meloveconsullongtime said...


      I have no personal stories directly relevant to this post, HOWEVER I can tell one story which is considerably related to this post:

      Around two years ago, when I was a resident in another major “Western” country (of which I later became a citizen), I was rudely awakened by a phone call from someone who identified himself as an officer of my adopted country’s US Consulate…

      …and he said to me, in (to my mind) very arrogant and threatening tones, about my complaints about my Russian-born daughter’s Russian mother (a friend of the US Consulate in Yekaterinburg Russia) committing several felonies in collusion with US Consular Staff in Yekaterinburg Russia, including changing my daughter’s name without informing me:

      “Consular officers have discretion!”

      Evidently including the “discretion” to change the name of an American citizen’s child, without informing the foreign-born (Russian-born) child’s American Father of the change of name, while yet making that Russian-born child a US citizen under her American father’s name.

      And so, as far as my available information goes, in the US State Department, “DISCRETION” includes US Consular staff being personal friends with a Russian woman with hot legs.

      03/13/13 8:25 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      So, while I agree with many of your points, this important aspect should be considered.

      Oh for fucks sake. Well, in that case I’ll posthumously inform al-Awlaki that his vaporization was pre-ordained by procedural considerations manifest per Section 349 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1481. I’m very positive he’ll reconsider his post-murder stance.

      sheezushfuckingcrist. Some people, no matter how much satire is rubbed in their face, still refuse to look beyond the Parallel Universe of FUCKING DON”T GET IT.

      03/13/13 8:31 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      ps..the first line was a quote from B. Beardslee

      Btw, “for the sake of accuracy,” the USG used a fucking Hellfire missile to deliver it’s message to disregard the goddamned letter. I’m positive he got it.

      03/13/13 8:36 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      quote:”“Consular officers have discretion!” unquote

      Bwahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Like when they decide to fuck the brains out of a subordinate on the roof of a US Embassy, right?

      03/13/13 8:41 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      ps..ummmm, how’s that axiom go..oh yeah..”Discretion is the better part of valor”.

      These dimwits oughta hang that in their Embassy’s lobby. Especially Benghazi.

      03/13/13 8:45 PM | Comment Link

    • jo6pac said...



      One of my Heros

      03/13/13 8:50 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      03/14/13 11:00 AM | Comment Link

    • Consul-At-Arms said...


      “quote:”“Consular officers have discretion!” unquote

      Bwahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Like when they decide to fuck the brains out of a subordinate on the roof of a US Embassy, right?”

      See Mr. Van Buren’s earlier post regarding Mr. McGurk, a political appointee who has _never_ been a consular officer.

      Triple-A’s passport revocation and his vaporization are separate consequences of his electing to make war on the country of his birth. Boo-frickin-hoo.

      03/14/13 2:17 PM | Comment Link

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