Saturday, October 8, 2011

An enemy's death - and neighbor's loss

What should we say to the Khan family?

They live in northeast Charlotte, in a middle class community, and in the five years before my family moved last year, they were my neighbors. They lived down the road and around the bend, and they had a son who played basketball in the street. I probably drove by him, and I’m sure I’ve waved at his parents driving by my home, but I don’t remember.

In fact, I never had occasion to meet the Khans until a few years back, when I walked down the street to knock on their door and ask, as a newspaper reporter, why their son hated the United States.

They didn’t answer the door then, and they have since been quiet until last week, when they released a statement after Samir Khan was killed Sept. 30 along with radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki by a U.S. drone in Yemen.

Samir Khan was 25 years old, a former Central Piedmont Community College student who started writing a radical blog in the basement of his family’s home. By several accounts, his father and others tried to convince him his radicalism was misguided, but Khan moved to Yemen after newspaper reports about that blog. There he produced the al-Qaida magazine “Inspire,” in which he wrote: “I am proud to be a traitor to America.”

So if you’re expecting a defense of Samir Khan here, know this: He declared himself an enemy of the United States, and he died riding in a car with another sworn enemy. We can allow ourselves at least a portion of the satisfaction he would’ve taken if our country were to be attacked again.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t questions we should ask. What should we say to the Khan family, which was contacted by the U.S. government last week only after the family noted in the statement that no U.S. official had called about Samir Khan’s remains, nor offered any condolences? How do we respond when the Khans point to their son’s death, then to the Fifth Amendment, which promises due process to American citizens?

Constitutional scholars have been divided when asked to reconcile the two. Khan’s death sets a precedent in which the U.S. president can authorize the assassination of a U.S. citizen without a formal charge or trial – and without, essentially, any substantial outside checks on the decision. Even if we think this president made no error with this decision, do we move forward believing every president will make the same, right choice for the right reasons, unchecked and in secrecy? If you were troubled by the constitutional overreaches of the post-?9/11 Bush administration, you should be just as unsettled now.

Many won’t be, of course, just as many have responded to the Khan family statement with the predictably shrill voices that paint Samir Khan as representative of the Muslim American population. Some of us, too, struggle with a subtler and quieter discomfort. It’s that anxiety that’s stirred whenever we see a turban on a plane, and although we fight that urge, in difficult moments we give in. We look the other way when we learn that there’s one less terrorist that can threaten us. We don’t admonish our government for being shamed into acknowledging a family’s pain.

We are 10 years past 9/11, and the stain keeps reappearing. Not the extremists who protest mosques and prattle about Sharia law. Not the intolerant who will find fear no matter the color of its skin. It’s the reasonable among us who lose that reason, in subtle and significant ways, then promise we are and will be better than that.

So what do we say to the Khans, our neighbors, who lost a son last week after losing him years ago? Perhaps there’s not anything we can say, but we can start with this:

We’re sorry.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry they lost their son, but you know, they lost him long ago.

He declared himself a traitor to America and in my opinion, he got what he deserved.

Nevertheless, I'd very much like to see the due process issue adjudicated. It's a very good constitutional question.

Anonymous said...

Why are we sorry? People who do wrong openly deserve the consequences whatever they may be. I feel pity for the people who raised this man. They may not have asked for the radical son they got...but I am not sorry that he is dead. We have to defend our country...bottom line. None of us are perfect and we need to stop trying to be.

Anonymous said...

WE Sorry for What!! I am sorry we sent so many to die in the middle east...

Anonymous said...

Samir Khan clearly turned against this country. He actively plotted, schemed and conspired with radical Islamics who have shown to have been involved in the 9-11-01 attacks on this nation.

I think the late Mr. Khan, his family and friends - and fellow traitors - are running around with blinders on to the ways of the world; to the rights and obligations of a nation under attack to defend itself - pre-emptively if necessary - and in a fight with an un-uniformed, clandestine network of terrorists operation from global shadows.

They can attack *us* and we can't attack back?

Anonymous said...

Peter you might be sorry but there are a lot who are not . Leave the "we" out of the apology you suggest.

BAMA said...

Well said. The extremes, the blacks and whites, are easy. But this is a hard situation, and if we wish to maintain our humanity, we have to reconcile the complexities and not leap shrieking to the edges.

Wiley Coyote said...

If you live by the sword, you die by the sword.

Regardless if that sword is a pen.

What did we say to Timothy McVeigh's parents after he was executed for crimes against the US?

Anonymous said...

Treason is the only crime defined in the Constitution and treason is punishable by death. Since the government is responsible for national security, they also have the power to levy punishments for treason.

y_heart_y said...

Thank you for being a rational human and bringing humanity into the subject of terrorism. Many are too soon to forget that a terrorist our country killed isn't just a threat - they're a son or daughter, friend, sibling, mother or father, still a human being. No matter how misguided they are, they still have family we forced to be left alone by our actions.

I admit that they need to be stopped for the danger and destruction they are causing our country, their country, and their religion. I will also admit that I have grown cold to the fact of what their death means to those who love them - the same meaning it would hold if any one of us lost a friend or family member. However, I know we need to remember that taking a life is wrong and an evil no matter the purpose, an act we should feel guilt and sorrow for.

Thank you for bringing up these feeling into a topic now so devoid of any feeling but "patriotism". Without them, how are we any different than a beast in the jungle; how are we human?

Anonymous said...

we should not say we're sorry. We should not be sorry. We should be thankful the citizens of this country see when you 'betray' the USA and leave it's boundaries, you become accessible to be dealt with in a manner like any other enemy. The fact the family lives here is of no consequence , yet. I'm quite sure the spooks will have their every move under scrutiny now. The USA was a country of assimilation, with a goal of religious freedom, social uplift amd economic opportunities. Radicals of all brands will fall outside the lines of accepted behavior and should be viewed as dangerous to our lifestyle. Tolerance of other social sets, at the expense of our well-established values is not an option.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your commentary. I do not know the answers -- but I appreciate you asking the questions, thoughtfully and with empathy and compassion.

Anonymous said...

So are you going to say "We are sorry" to the many thousands killed by his group? And I'm not only talking about Americans.

Pete, your work is week at best.

Anonymous said...

What would I say to his parents? I think that although I feel sorry for their loss as a mother and father, the question is what should they be asking of themselves? "Why did we allow our most loved son to sink into the depths of such a narrow-minded, hate-filled cult?" "What did we do to allow our son to progress to the point where he proudly considered himself a traitor to our country?" This story is truly of a child, perhaps the neighborhood basketball player you describe, who was allowed to fill himself with rage and hate to the point of corrupting his basic humanity. Rather than the parents expecting an explanation from the government, I think they should be asking for an explanation from themselves. We have heard this story before with different characters and catastrophic endings.

Anonymous said...

The Traitor died a Traitors death. How can you say "I'm Sorry" when so many fine young men and women have died defending freedom. He made the wrong choice, despite the efforts of his parents and others. He made the wrong choice and he died simply because he made that choice and he was in the wrong place at the right time. I think it's called collateral damage.

psmithez said...

He not only moved to Yemen and published a website, he was so active with the group that he drove around in cars with them. I hope that all other Samir want-a-bes see the message and leave this country and go where they will be happier. We don't want anyone here who doesn't respect the benefits the US has already provided him. It will save more money to help those who appreciate our help.

pstonge said...

Good morning, and thanks for the comments. Some of you seemed to have skipped over this paragraph:

"So if you’re expecting a defense of Samir Khan here, know this: He declared himself an enemy of the United States, and he died riding in a car with another sworn enemy. We can allow ourselves at least a portion of the satisfaction he would’ve taken if our country were to be attacked again."

The "sorry" I wrote at the end is not for Khan, but for parents that lost a son they'd tried not to lose.



Phil said...

I wrote this while Peter was posting his comments above: I think Peter is being clever in simply saying “We’re sorry” without specifying what we’re sorry for. We’re sorry that their son brought this upon himself, and we’re sorry that the parents are suffering as a result, but we’re not at all sorry that we took out a miserable excuse for a human being who would have delighted in killing innocent people.

Anonymous said...

Yea whatever St Onge. You cant back track now. You gave yourself away as if its a surprise.
You are clearly a terrorist sympathizer and trying to split hairs with his family is meaningless as they are no different than him. Do you really believe they dont support him? Such lame excuses and a weak defense tha wont fly and neither will you.

Anonymous said...

To all those calling him a traitor - you may be right. But the point is that as a US Citizen, he did not have his day in court. He was never convicted of being a traitor and never sentenced to death, as a convicted traitor should be.

Look at the bigger picture here. If the US President has the right to declare a US Citizen a traitor and have him executed without a trial, what prevents any future President with less than upstanding morals from doing the same thing to his political dissenters? The point is that executing US Citizens without their fair day in court is UNCONSTITUTIONAL and violates the most basic foundation that our country was built on. I would agree with a judge that would sentence Khan to the death penalty, but the fact that there was no judge involved is a very slippery and dangerous slope for our country.

pstonge said...

Phil: Thanks. Yes, we're sorry for the Khan family.

Anon, 8:29: I think those are legitimate concerns and good thoughts. Do we trust that all presidents, unchecked, moving forward?


Anonymous said...

Well perhaps it was the fact he was traveling with someone that the US certainly did have a right to target. Ever think about that? What do people and his family want, to kidnap him and get him out of harm's way so that he wouldn't get killed when we get the other guy?

Larry said...

I am sorry that all of this has to take place.

We live in a very complicated World in which our Government wants to be the only one which does not operate with Religious Principles, while all the others do so very openly.

But the key to all of this is religion, which has been ingrained in all people since almost the dawn of time, and unless we embrace that fact, we are on the losing end as a country from the start.

I hope the rest of you have studied other religions as I have to see how rich their values and faith runs.

That is why I know they will do what ever it takes to protect and enforce their tenants.

5:51: “Believers, take neither Jews nor the Christians for your friends. They are friends with one another.”

Just like taking a passage from the Bible can be done to make a point but in this case you have to add it to the many other passages I have not supplied to this comment.

In fact I encourage everyone to do your own research and see how rich and interesting all Religions are all over the World. How they came about and why they are so interested in growing all over the World today.

If you do nothing today be sure to research the Sharia law phenomenon it seems that in a lot of local areas the host countries are allowing it to be used in place of the laws of the host country.

Oh actually we have had rulings in our country for Sharia Law over our law in this country.

Anonymous said...

"I'm sorry" that I read this article."

Anonymous said...

I say he brought it onto himself and got what he deserved.
As humans we do feel sorry for his parents - as I still do for those that perished in NYC - and their parents.
Now a little Geography please - Turbans are work by Sikhs (for the most part) - they are from India - far from the culture you think they belong to.

Anonymous said...

Peter - I agree with your comment on "not knowing" but yet being concerned.
This same ignorance led to an innocent "Turbaned" man being killed right after 9/11 - by a man claiming to take revenge on Bin Laden.
Sorry - deviating from your original point - You reap what you sow.

pstonge said...

Actually, 8:49, I think you're only sort of right. Yes, Americans incorrectly associate all turbans with Muslims, when as you say, Indians wear Pagri, a form of turban. But Middle Eastern men also wear turbans, and I was speaking to the reaction people have on planes to those turbans, geographically correct or not.


Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful story Peter.
I absolutely cannot imagine the grief and turmoil roiling in that family right now.
Like one commenter said, they lost their boy a long time ago.
Like any parent with a child h*ll bent on destruction, ( drugs and alcohol more commonly)
They've spent years praying and wringing their hands and sadly, waiting for the phone to ring.
I too am so sincerely sorry for them.

Anonymous said...


Your headline belies your prejudices. The Constitution states "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court."

Neither Khan nor Awlaki were properly tried and convicted, therefore neither can properly be declared "enemies".

When we speak of "American exceptionalism" we need to remember that part of that exceptionalism is rule by law, not by dictatorial decree such as that which led to Khan & Awlaki being killed. The actions taken by Obama (and Bush - this isn't partisan) put the US in the same league as the tyrants we claim to despise.

Anonymous said...

A child's mind is molded by those in his life. His parents, religious leaders, friends and others. But, the greatest responsibility is entrusted upon the parents and upon their home. If I were the Khans, I would be feeling, not anger toward the US government... but shame for what they failed to do. Perhaps it was their fault. Perhaps they were helpless in guiding him. But, if I were them, I would feel a great amount of shame and guilt.

Anonymous said...

Enough with the "we're sorry.". No matter WHO you are apologizing to. Even the most vile, evil sadistic killers in the world had parents. WE are not sorry.

This man intentionally inserted himself into a mortal battle. He lost.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I read the last sentence. It was OK up to then...

Jo O'Keefe said...

Everyone, I am too rushed this morning to read what you wrote. My first thought is that the same thing broke in this young man as it did in those who shot others at Columbine, Austin, TX years ago, at Rep. Giffords, at VA Tech, etc. All those ill persons experienced a COGNITIVE break leading to irrational thinking. We might not be able to label them psychotic as we could a schizophrenic during a psychotic episode yet they lost touch with reality. In this case, the delusion man moved to a land that fueled the fire underlying his delusions. No matter what he did, because his family lost him, it deserves our support. As the commenter I can see wrote, "They lost him long ago." They knew that and surely have suffered for years.

Anonymous said...

And the "shrill voices" are right once again...

Anonymous said...

Due process is a serious issue, because of the slippery slope thing. Once breached, we all become potential victims. I'm one for strictly abiding by Constitutional guarantees. This country has always had threats and enemies (some such as the Soviets much more menacing), but so far has tried to at least openly stick by it's original Constitution.

Anonymous said...

Peter, you/re so open minded; in which branch of the service did you serve.

pstonge said...

Anon, 10:00: I have not, although I have family members who have. If I had served, though, would that make me less inclined to feel sorrow for a family that lost a son?


Anonymous said...

... to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee....

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:11, and I'm sure you have one this pathetic COEXIST bumper stickers on your car...

How much due process do you think you would get in Yemen, Somalia, Iran and or other Islamic countries?

Anonymous said...

I think you have to question how Samir Khan got to be what he became.

Frankly, I agree with the first responder's post above, but I'd really like to see this family open their doors and allow the public to see what kind of environment this kid grew up in.

Otherwise, they should act like any other family that spawns a monster and either apologize to the rest of us or just keep silent.

Anonymous said...

The Kahns lost their son when he committed himself to a life of radicalism. Proof of that loss lies in the son's failure to heed his parents pleas. It's too bad the way things worked out, but my words to them would not include the word "sorry".

Anonymous said...

So you want to be like them anon 10:24. Those are 3rd world cesspool dictatorships you think we should model ourselves after.

pstonge said...


I appreciate the comments this morning, and as you can see from them, disagreement is welcome here. A reminder, however: If you want to engage in namecalling and slander, you're going to have to find another place to do it.



Anonymous said...

Here's a big clue to those who "support" Khan in any fashion.

Firstly, he considered himself a traitor and enemy of the US.

Secondly, the Muslims closest to him knew this, and while they claim to have tried to steer him away, ultimately supported him.

How do we know this?

Simply due to the fact that he was not considered an apostate in Islam.

He was still considered to be a True Muslim.

The fact that they want his remains for a "proper" burial testifies to this fact.

Don't let the Muslims fool you.

Their ultimate loyalty is to their religion, not us or our country.

And they will do anything to weaken and undermine our country in any way they can to promote Islam.

If you want to know where you stand in the Islamic scheme of things, there is one word you should know:


If you are not Muslim, this is your future under Islam.

Anonymous said...

The essence of this country is the rights given to it's citizens by the Constitution. The goal of the (enemy/terrorist) is to destroy the essence of this country (which would eventually doom us)... so by ignoring the Constitution in our response, we fall into their trap by undercutting the foundation of this country.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte, The city of brotherly HATE!

Wade said...

I don't care who it is or what that person has done, due process cannot be avoided for American citizens. That makes the country no better than the terrorists. At the very least, present the evidence for treason before a judge and jury.

Phillip Ranke said...

Thank you Peter for saying what many of us feel. I am glad that there is at least one person in the print media willing to take a critical look at an unprecedented event. You have put to print tough questions that should not be white washed nor ignored. You have put yourself out there for criticism by those that do not wish to look at the deeper implications. This is true journalism.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry that his parents have to live with the knowledge that their son hated his country so much that he put in the written word but I am not sorry that there is one less terrorist out there. Sorry bit these radicals and their way of thinking has to stop. They may hate the United States but they don't complain when U.S dollars are used to fund their attacks.

Timothy Whitson said...

We say "We're sorry for your loss, but your son died in the company of known criminals OFF US soil and even tourists on vacation cannot expect diplomatic protection when beyond our borders".

Anonymous said...

My question is how much did the parents know, whether they agreed with his sentiments and if they aided his trip to Yemen.

As a neighbor, I send my condolences.

As a patriot, I say he was in an enemy country of the US, gave aid and comfort to the enemy, and was a sworn traitor. At that point he relenquished his rights as a citizen of the US and therefore deserves no due process.

pstonge said...

Anon, 6:36: Reports say the family and friends disagreed with his writings about the U.S. and tried to counsel him in a different direction.


Anonymous said...

Funny - the comment I made hours ago didn't show up. And there were plenty of comments on this story - til about 11:42 or so. Then just a few.

It's your blog, Mr St Onge - you can do as you please. But deleting comments with which you disagree does not make you right.

And printing only those you consider sufficiently "reasonable" - i.e., that don't challenge the liberal meme that "Islam is a religion of peace" - isn't exactly fair to your readers, now is it?

Here's my previous comment - which certainly did not "slander" anyone:

What should we say to the Khan family? Whatever you'd say to the family of Usama bin Laden, or Jared Loughner, or Ted Bundy.

If you're not acquainted with them already, why would you cloak yourself with liberal guilt and attempt to find the right words?

"I'm sorry for your loss" - sounds quite adequate to me.

Now, if instead of a Muslim who was an avowed traitor to his country - our country - it was some right-wing extremist - somehow I don't think there'd be a blog written about the subject of how to address that individual's family after his/her death.

Now - all that said - it is very scary to have the U.S. gvt sanctioning the assassination of a U.S. citizen. Of course, during the Civil War, there were no subpoenas & warrants issued against the Confederate soldiers. Our government took up arms against its own citizens. Quite a thorny issue actually.

Am I glad that two traitors - who gladly planned the deaths of their fellow citizens - are dead? You betcha. Do I think it's right that the Obama admin did what they did? Nope. Gitmo exists for good reason. There could have been a lot we'd have learned from them.

The same gvt that incinerated al-Awlaki & Khan et al - could easily assassinate someone else they - the corrupt, racist AG's office (see whistleblower J Christian Adams new book, "Injustice") - decide is a serious threat. I don't doubt that they are fully capable of just that. Stranger things have happened in this country's history.

pstonge said...

Anon, 8:26: I didn't delete your comment, which says nothing others haven't said here already, including me. "I'm sorry for your loss," is something I think would be very appropriate, as my column suggests, and the column shares your constitutional concerns about the assassination.


therestofthestory said...

If this had happened during the Bush Cheney era, the media would be having a field day and Congresspersons would be hollering impeachment.

Anonymous said...

How about this? "I am sorry you failed your son. I am sorry he felt the need to hate was stronger than the need to love and be loved. I am sorry he was accidentally killed, but we are safer now than we were just a few days ago, so while this is a travesty, it is certainly not a tragedy as he took it upon himself to be violently opposed to our country."

Anonymous said...

Could be worse, it could have been a productive member of society, like the ones lost on 9/11. As it stands, I see no great loss to humanity. If you are offended, vote AGAINST Obama as he signed off on this attack.

Anonymous said...

"Charlotte, The city of brotherly HATE!

October 9, 2011 11:24 AM "

This is a lie. This deceptive ignorant writer denies goodness and truth. Woe to those who call evil as good. Islam is a pagan evil religion and its followers will not see eternal life. It is written in stone approved by Constantine's divine intervention order 1700 yrs ago.

The Torah teaches that HE hates evil otherwise he would give it a 2nd chance. This is no different than the homosexual who cannot return once he commits to that warned about cursed eternity of death. Lot could not return to Soddom and his wife was warned and killed for looking back. You have been forewarned and where much is given much is expected. Be wise as serpents. Vengence is mine. I am not mocked. Beware of the wolf in sheep clothing.

You are not allowed to revisit the past or sympathize with those who are destined for eternal death otherwise your your own soul in jeopardized.
HE allows in HIS goodness and mercy to allow evil to co-exist in the flesh only but not in the afterlife wheres it a whole new ballgame for members only.

See you in hell St Onge.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm being thick here but how do we get from this guys death to government sanctioned assassination of US citizens?

To start, this guy left the US to take up with a group known and accepted to be a terrorist group against the US.

He is publicly published as hating the US, hence why he left, perhaps?

He has administered and written on a blog about his hatred - yet folks are saying he did not have due process? I think he provided all the due process evidence needed, all by him self.

I do feel for his family, there are times when no matter how hard we try, we are unable to change the course our children take.
BUT... to blame the US for their son's death is a bit of a stretch. And to state this is a willful act by the US to kill a US citizen is beyond my ability to sympathize.

When he left this country to escape the due process coming his way, to take up with the enemy, he sealed his own fate.

Please note, I would feel the same no matter what his religion was. I can sympathize with his parents wanting to bury him according to their religion - but a Catholic who loses someone thru suicide isn't allowed to bury their loved one according to their beliefs either. No matter how devote they are.

This isn't about a US citizen unjustly killed. This is about a traitor who left his country to plot against his country - in short he willingly gave up his US rights.

Anonymous said...

I live in the same neighborhood, up the road, around the other bend. I am the one with the American Flag flying proudly on the front door. Rest assured, I am NOT sorry! Like Toby Keith writes....I ain't prejudice....I'm just...MADE IN AMERICA!

Anonymous said...

You left off some very important words. Sorry for ....... (what exactly)? I am sorry .....for their loss, and that's the extint of it. I am assuming that is what you meant.

John said...

I have to disagree Pete. By proudly and repeatedly referencing himslef as a raitor to America he has forfeited his rights as an American citizen and should no longer be able to shield himself from the very laws and governement that he seeks to destroy. He was not peacefully protesting; he declared himself an enemy combatant and actively particpated in plotting armed hostilities against this country and its citizens. If he wasn't sorry for his decisions and actions, we should feel no remorse for our actions. Are you sorry because it is distant issue to you? If you had to kill someone in self defense or in defense of your family would you be sorry? I can't see how I think this is different. Better to be judged by world opinion than mourn the loss of thousands.

pstonge said...


We don't disagree about Samir Kahn.