In a broadcast exclusive, Nasser al-Awkali speaks out for the first time since the Obama administration confirmed drones had killed four U.S. citizens, including his son, Anwar, and teenage grandson, Abdulrahman. The cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen on Sept. 30, 2011. Anwar’s 16-year-old son was killed in another drone strike two weeks later. "If the United States government gave me concrete evidence against Anwar, I would have done my best to convince Anwar to come to Sana’a or to go even to the United States to face a trial. But it was only allegations," al-Awlaki says, noting he believes the United States could have easily captured him alive. We also speak with Anwar’s uncle, Saleh bin Fareed, a Yemeni sheikh and tribal leader. "I am sure I could have handed him over — me and my family — but they never, ever asked us to do that," Fareed says. The story of the al-Awlakis is featured prominently in the new documentary film opening today, "Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield," directed by Richard Rowley and written by Jeremy Scahill and David Riker.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn today to a major Democracy Now! exclusive. For the first time since the White House confirmed in May that it killed four U.S. citizens in drone strikes overseas, three of them in Yemen, we’ll speak with the father and grandfather of two of them. Nasser al-Awlaki is the father of the Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen September 30th, 2011. Two weeks later, his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was also killed by a U.S. drone while he was having dinner with his cousins. Abdulrahman was born in Denver, Colorado. His story was told by his grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, in the new film, opening today, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. This is a clip of Nasser al-Awlaki being interviewed by the investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill.
NASSER AL-AWLAKI: Abdulrahman left without telling us. He said in a small note that he’s going to look for his father. He left from the kitchen window, and he took a bus to the governorate of Shabwa. Then, when his father was killed, his grandmother told him, "There is no use for you to stay anymore." And he said, "Yes, I will come back in two days."
On the morning of October 15th, we got a telephone call, and they told us he was blown up to pieces by the drone. And they saw only the back of his hair. You know, his relative, his cousin, he knew his hair from the back, and he recognized it, and he knew that Abdulrahman really was dead. But they could not recognize his face or anything else.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Nasser al-Awlaki in the film Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. The Obama administration’s assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki and killing of his son, 16-year-old Abdulrahman, is a central part of this film, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, and the book by the same title, which is by Jeremy Scahill, based on years of reporting on U.S. secret operations in Yemen, in Somalia and Afghanistan. The film is directed by Richard Rowley, written by Jeremy Scahill and Dave Riker. The New York Times review called it "utterly riveting." It premieres tonight in New York, in Washington, D.C., in Los Angeles, and will soon play throughout the country.
For more, we go directly to Sana’a, Yemen, in this Democracy Now! exclusive, where we’re joined by Nasser al-Awlaki, the father of Anwar al-Awlaki and the grandfather of Abdulrahman. We are also joined by Saleh bin Fareed, Yemeni sheikh and tribal leader, one of the first people to arrive at the site of another U.S. attack, this on the Yemeni village of al-Majalah on December 17, 2009. He is Anwar al-Awlaki’s uncle. Here in New York, Jeremy Scahill joins us, national security correspondent for The Nation magazine, correspondent for Democracy Now! and author of the book and central figure of the film, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. We go first to Nasser al-Awlaki in Sana’a, Yemen.
I want to begin by asking you to respond to President Obama. In May, President Obama delivered the first major counterterrorism address of his second term. I want to turn to his comments on targeted killing, specifically the case of your son, U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens, and when neither the United States nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team.
That’s who Anwar Awlaki was. He was continuously trying to kill people. He helped oversee the 2010 plot to detonate explosive devices on two U.S.-bound cargo planes. He was involved in planning to blow up an airliner in 2009. When Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, went to Yemen in 2009, Awlaki hosted him, approved his suicide operation, helped him tape a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack, and his last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil. I would have detained and prosecuted Awlaki if we captured him before he carried out a plot, but we couldn’t.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama. Nasser al-Awlaki, he is talking about your son, Anwar al-Awlaki. Your response to what President Obama announced?
NASSER AL-AWLAKI: Good morning, Amy. I am glad to be on your show.
I have seen the speech of President Obama. And really, I am surprised about what he said in his speech. You know, in fact, I wrote President Obama a letter in 2011, around April 2011. I sent it through another news channel. And I asked Mr. Obama that it is not—it is illegal and it is against the Constitution of the United States of America to target my son, who is an American and who was born in America. And I got no response. And then Obama went ahead and ordered the killing of my son, and they killed him on September 30th, 2011, in a small village in al-Jawf governorate in eastern Yemen.
And, by the way, Anwar was killed in a small hamlet which has only about 10 or 15 houses, and it was in the middle of the desert. Obama claims that they were not able to capture Anwar, neither him, his forces, neither—nor the Yemeni forces. I think this is a big lie. If they wanted to capture Anwar, they would have done it easily. Sure, I am against capturing him, but anyhow, they could have done it easily, because they had surveillance on Anwar for more than a month, and they knew exactly where he was. And they could have captured him if they wanted him, if they wanted to do that.
But it was decided by the American government and by Mr. Obama himself to silence Anwar al-Awlaki and kill him. And if Anwar al-Awlaki did anything against the United States, aside from his sermons, I want Mr. Obama to say that in court, through his lawyers. But they made allegations against Anwar. Anwar is already dead. And they never indicted him for any wrongdoing. So I cannot believe what Mr. Obama said. What I believe, they killed him in cold blood. They killed him because they want to silence him forever because of his influence on Muslim youths all over the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Nasser al-Awlaki, President Obama did not directly refer to the drone attack on your grandson, 16-year-old Abdulrahman, but last October former White House press secretary and then-Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs was asked about the drone strike on your grandson, Abdulrahman. Gibbs responded by blaming Anwar al-Awlaki for his son’s assassination by U.S. drones. He was questioned by reporter Sierra Adamson. Take a listen.
SIERRA ADAMSON: Do you think that the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, who was an American citizen, is justifiable?
ROBERT GIBBS: I’m not going to get into Anwar al-Awlaki’s son. I know that Anwar al-Awlaki renounced his citizenship—
SIERRA ADAMSON: His son was still an American citizen.
ROBERT GIBBS: —did great harm to people in this country and was a regional al-Qaeda commander hoping to inflict harm and destruction on people that share his religion and others in this country. And—
SIERRA ADAMSON: That’s an American citizen that’s being targeted without due process of law, without trial.
ROBERT GIBBS: And again—
SIERRA ADAMSON: And he’s underage. He’s a minor.
ROBERT GIBBS: I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father. If they’re truly concerned about the well-being of their children, I don’t think becoming an al-Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.
AMY GOODMAN: I’d like you to respond, Nasser al-Awlaki, to President Obama’s former press secretary saying that your grandson, Abdulrahman, should have a far more responsible father.
NASSER AL-AWLAKI: You know, well, I think I already talked about this, but I really think that a man like Mr. Gibbs, who used to be the White House spokesman for the president of the United States, to say a stupid and ridiculous statement like that—I mean, what is the relationship of killing Abdulrahman by a drone strike and that he’s a son of Anwar al-Awlaki? And, by the way, you know, I, myself, took care of raising Abdulrahman for many years, so he was not even with his father, for Mr. Gibbs to say what he said. And so, really, what I—you know, I feel about what Mr. Gibbs said is it is very astonishing and very surprising for a man like him to say something like this. You know, Abdulrahman did nothing against the United States. He’s only 16 years old, and he is an American citizen. He was born in America. And he was killed by his own government. I want Mr. Gibbs to explain to me why he was killed. And, you know, this is really what I wanted to know, from him and from President Obama and from the rest of the American administration. But to see—but to say something like that ridiculous statement is really outrageous.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Sheikh Saleh bin Fareed into this conversation and ask you to respond to President Obama saying that they wanted to prosecute Anwar al-Awlaki but could not find—could not get him, so they had to kill him. You, Saleh bin Fareed, are the head of the Aulaq tribe. Did the U.S. ever ask you to hand him over?
SALEH BIN FAREED: In fact, I had been approached by President Ali Abdullah Saleh some years ago, and he asked me if I could persuade Anwar to come to live in Sana’a or in Aden. Anwar was living in a side—in Awlaki territory, and he was living peacefully, going to the mosque, meeting people in a small village. And, in fact—and he told me, "Please, try and convince him. We want him to come and live in Sana’a. And the Americans, they don’t want him to live in the Awlaki sheikhdom." So I went, I met Anwar, I spoke to him, and he told me, "Uncle, please. I have—I got bored by living in Sana’a. I had been in jail for a long time, and they could not prove anything to me. And I am afraid if I go back to Sana’a, they will put me in jail again. So I want to be alone here in this peaceful village. And please assure them that I have nothing to do whatsoever with al-Qaeda. I have—I know nothing about it. But I hope they don’t force me to go to the end." I tried to convince him that he will be in peace, but he said, "I don’t trust neither the American government nor the Yemeni government for my safety. And just tell them that I have nothing to do whatsoever with al-Qaeda. And all I do, I mean, I do it openly. I go to the mosque. I meet people. And that’s all."
AMY GOODMAN: Sheikh Saleh bin Fareed, if the U.S. government had presented you with evidence, would you have turned Anwar al-Awlaki over to U.S. forces or to the Yemeni government?
SALEH BIN FAREED: For sure, I would have done it. And I am sure his father would have done it. I have known Anwar for a long time, since he was a child. Anwar was—he was born to be honest. He born to be a leader. He was a very promising young man. He was loved by the people all over the country, by the tribesmen, by the Middle East people, by the politicians. And he was welcomed anywhere he would go. But I assure you he got nothing whatsoever to do what they—for what they claim. And I am sure I could have handed him over, me and my family, but they never, ever asked us to do that.
AMY GOODMAN: Nasser al-Awlaki, let me ask you the same question. You’re the father of Anwar al-Awlaki. If the U.S. government had presented you with evidence and you were convinced, would you have handed your son over?
NASSER AL-AWLAKI: Well, you know, if we go back, you know, when I wrote the letter to Mr. Obama telling him not to target my son, and I asked him to give me some time to have a dialogue with my son and convince him to not to make any sermons, even sermons against the United States of America or any other country, yet I got no response from the United States government. So there was no effort on the side of the United States government that they wanted to capture Anwar and put him to trial if they had anything against him. So, believe me, if the United States government gave me a concrete evidence against Anwar, I would have done my best to convince Anwar to come to Sana’a or to go even to the United States and face a trial.
But it was only allegations. For example, Mr. Obama in his speech claimed that Anwar was the foreign director of al-Qaeda operations in Yemen. This is a big lie. Al-Qaeda never claimed that Anwar is a member of their organization. They always called him a sheikh, Anwar al-Awlaki. They never claimed he is a member of their organization. They never said he had an office or any official standing in that organization. Even Anwar himself, he never claimed—he never said anything regarding that he is a member or not a member of al-Qaeda. So it is a complete lie. And I am really astonished that the American president, who made an oath that he will protect the American Constitution, will say something like this against an American citizen, who has never been alleged to make any crime, and he was not given the chance to say his—to come to court and defend himself.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this conversation after a brief break of just about 30 seconds. We are bringing you this Democracy Now! exclusive. Nasser al-Awlaki is joining us from Sana’a, Yemen, where he lives, the father of Anwar al-Awlaki, grandfather of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, two of the four people the U.S. government admits that it killed in U.S. strikes. Sheikh Saleh bin Fareed is also with us, Yemeni tribal leader, uncle of Anwar al-Awlaki. And Jeremy Scahill will respond to what they have said, as we continue our conversation with them across the world. Stay with us.