Anwar al-Awlaki was an Imam in the US and had a large following in the English speaking Muslim world. His status as someone well respected within the community was evidenced by his invitation to lunch at the Pentagon and the further invitation for him to preach the Friday sermon at the mosque on Capitol Hill.
05 November 2010
PRESS RELEASE: Cageprisoners and Anwar al-Awlaki – a factual background
Cageprisoners would like to dispel some of the myths surrounding our relationship with Anwar al-Awlaki. The response to recent events, particularly in some parts of the media, has helped to fuel and incite Islamaphobia particularly against Muslim organisations around the UK.
Over the last seven years, Cageprisoners has demonstrated its credentials in the field of human rights and our desire for a better and safer future. We feel is that it is important to set the record straight regarding our relationship with Anwar al-Awlaki in order to stop the real issues being hijacked through supposition and an attempt to exaggerate the threat of terrorism.
The following are a list of facts:
1. Anwar al-Awlaki was an Imam in the US and had a large following in the English speaking Muslim world. His status as someone well respected within the community was evidenced by his invitation to lunch at the Pentagon and the further invitation for him to preach the Friday sermon at the mosque on Capitol Hill. For both invitations, al-Awlaki required a great deal of vetting by the FBI and other security agencies.
2. Anwar al-Awlaki’s position prior to his detention in 2006 was that the killing of civilians is unlawful and he condemned the attacks of 9/11 in the strongest terms.
3. In August 2006, while on a teaching sabbatical to Yemen, al-Awlaki was detained by the Yemeni authorities for a period of almost 18 months. During that detention, he was subjected to abuse and also questioned regularly by the FBI. On 12 December 2007, he was released without any charges against him. Cageprisoners conducted an interview with him where he put forward a very measured response to the treatment that he had received – the full interview can be read here.
4. Over the next two years, Cageprisoners invited Anwar al-Awlaki to speak about being a detainee during the month of Ramadan at our annual fundraising dinners. Due to al-Awlaki never having been charged with any crime, we felt it appropriate that he speak about his experiences in prison due to the wide appeal he has always had with the wider Muslim public.
5. At the time of our 2009 Kensington Town Hall fundraising event, Cageprisoners became aware of a document that had been issued by al-Awlaki entitled, 44 ways to support the jihad. The document is a theological argument for the support of jihad as a generality rather than having any specific instructions in relation to specific conflicts. Although we did not agree with some of the language and sentiments expressed in the document, we also felt that there was nothing criminally wrong in what he had written and were happy to proceed with him on our platform, especially as he had not espoused any views relating to the killing of civilians. We read the document in the same vein as the theological arguments that were used during the Soviet-Afghan and Balkan conflicts which were backed by the US and UK governments – that resistance in conflicts was an inherent right of the people who were invaded or occupied.
6. Cageprisoners first became aware that Anwar al-Awlaki had radically changed his views regarding conflicts in the interviews he conducted with Al Jazeera in November 2009 and February 2010 – the latter specifically mentioning his view that it is permissible to target civilians. We did not equivocate on this point and clarified that we could not back such positions as we did not agree with them from a theological perspective – the attacking of civilians is not from Islam.
7. The relationship Cageprisoners had with Anwar al-Awlaki was specifically relating to his status as someone who was detained without charge or trial. He has never been a spiritual leader or advisor to the organisation, rather he has been one of the many cases we deal with. There are other cases we work on such as that of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, similarly we do not support his views but rather the principle of his right to a fair trial.
8. Despite our opposition to al-Awlaki’s positions, Cageprisoners will still campaign against the order by the US government to have him assassinated and also against him being tried in Yemen in absentia.