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Can anyone explain the reasoning behind the US never charging Osama bin Laden for 9-11 or Anwar Al-Awlaki with terrorism before setting out to kill them?

Did it make it any easier to find bin Laden in 2001 - when he was supposedly in Afghanistan, had not yet taken credit for the 9-11 attacks, and the Taliban government suggested that instead of fighting a war, he be tried in a third country, asking for the evidence against him?  Couldn't charges and evidence have been helpful in enlisting international cooperation generally?  Of course, in 2001 the president replied, "There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he's guilty." Is that still our policy whenever it suits the president?

With US citizen Al-Awlaki, who appears never to have committed nor been charged with any violent or terrorism-related act, while drone attacks aimed at him in Yemen have killed innocent civilians, isn't the question even more serious?  Don't the current Material Support For Terror and other statutes make it easier than ever to charge real accessories when there's evidence?

Is the bottom line that if we have a president we respect, like, or voted for, these policies and actions are fine, shouldn't be questioned - are even heroic and terrific?

Thu Jun 02, 2011 at  6:07 PM PT: Readers clarified that bin Laden had been indicted for other terrorist acts prior to 9-11, but not for 9-11.  No one seemed to know evidence that would have been included in a proper 9-11 indictment against him.

Bizarrely, Al-Awlaki has only been formally accused of a passport violation and of violating the White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910 known as the Mann Act – not of anything related to terrorism.  Historically the Mann Act has been famously used to harass interracial couples and uppity negroes, including boxing champion Jack Johnson, and in political stings including the removal of former NY governor Elliot Spitzer.  No one here claimed that, if Al-Awlaki was a terrorist living in Yemen, this might be a good way to catch him or persuade Yemenis to turn him in.

Thanks to everyone who clarified these facts.

Yesterday's Criminalizing Free Speech by Glenn Greenwald at Salon suggests the reason Al-Awlaki has never been charged for terrorism is, his actual "crimes" are clearly constitutionally protected.  Five terrorism experts suggest that his primary threat to America is that he opposes US policies for a Muslim audience in fluent English.

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