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Of death and children, one way or the other

[ by Charles Cameron — thoughts triggered by the Jeremy Scahill & Lawrence Wright documentaries ]

I don’t really enjoy writing this, because I’m loath to suggest that sixteen year old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was in fact a combatant, though it seems to me that he might have been. I was viewing documentaries the other night, though, and when Jeremy Scahill‘s Dirty Wars [upper panel, below], which deals with Abdulrahman, was followed directly by Lawrence Wright‘s My Trip to Al-Qaeda [lower panel, below], the age at which Ayman al-Zawahiri began his career as a radical stuck out like a sore thumb:

Here, then, is Wright’s commentary on the young al-Zawahiri:

Ayman al-Zawahiri, the man behind Bin Laden, a doctor, product of a distinguished family, from an exclusive suburb of Cairo called Maadi, his father was a professor of pharmacology; his mother — the daughter of a diplomat… Ayman had started a cell to overthrow the Egyptian government in 1966. He was 15 years old.

How much agency do we believe fifteen and sixteen year olds have, anyway? Do we allow them to drink a beer?

If we are ever going to have a debate as to the moral high ground in matters of the extrajudicial killing of US citizens, it seems to me that Abdulrahman al-Awlaki rather than his father Anwar should be the test case we focus in on.

The truth is that young people, sometimes very young people, do on occasion play with fire. I don’t think that means we should “burn” them on suspicion, but I do think it’s part of the larger picture. And in this case, that means “drone warfare” and “targeted killings” aren’t the only relevant categories: we may need to factor the issue of “child soldiers” into our considerations as well.


Here, to give the Awlaki family’s side of the story, is an ACLU video with Abdulrahman Awlaki’s grandfather:


And how did I wind up here?

Well, as I said, I was watching documentaries… but the first thing that caught my eye, to be honest, was this shot from Dirty Wars [upper panel, below], which ineitably reminded me of the rosary-and-rear-view-mirror shot from Manhunt [lower panel]…

which I’d talked about in an earlier post, Manhunt: religion and the director’s eye.

I’m beginning to think no documentary about jihad and counterterrorism is complete without one…

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