Buffalo Human Rights Law Review


K. Benson

First Page


Document Type



In Copyright


Anwar al-Awlaki, frequently described by the media as an "Ameri- can-born cleric," was the first American citizen to be targeted for extrajudicial assassination by the Obama administration as part of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). While there have been scholarly works considering the legality of his killing under domestic law, none have examined his status as a chaplain under International Humanita- rian Law (IHL), what this designation could mean for the legality of Anwar al-Alwaki's killing, or what his killing could mean for the GWOT in general. This paper provides a necessarily brief history of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Anwar al-Awlaki's journey thereto before discussing the Bush and Obama administra- tions' positions on pertinent legal issues. After establishing that IHL applies in the case of the al-Awlaki killing, I argue that al-Awlaki conformed to IHL's standard of religious personnel due to his posi- tion as a "cleric," casting doubt on the legality of his killing. The precedent set by his killing therefore has important ramifications for other clerics working in cases where IHL applies.