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Obama administration invokes state secrets in effort to block targeted killings lawsuit

The Obama administration on Friday filed a brief [text, PDF] with the District Court for the District of Columbia [official website], asking the court to dismiss a lawsuit [text, PDF] questioning the legality of targeted killings of terrorism suspects. The lawsuit, filed by the father of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki [NYT profile], seeks an injunction to prevent the government from killing Anwar al-Awlaki on the basis that it would be an extrajudicial execution. The Obama administration argues that this matter involves "non-justiciable political questions" to be decided by the executive branch and that litigation could divulge state secrets [NYT report]. In a document [text, PDF] submitted to the court, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said:

Despite the fact that some limited information related to al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula and Anwar al-Awlaki has been made public by the U.S. Government, [the] Plaintiff's allegation in this case implicate other sensitive intelligence information that must be protected from disclosure."
In addition, the Obama administration alleges that Plaintiff Nasser al-Aulaqi, who is a citizen of Yemen and the father of Anwar al-Awlaki, does not have standing to file the lawsuit. The government said that if Anwar al-Awlaki wants to have access to the US legal system he should "surrender to authorities and be held accountable for his actions."

The lawsuit [JURIST report] questioning the legality of targeted killings was filed in late August by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy websites]. Earlier that month, the ACLU and the CCR obtained a specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) license that enables them to represent Anwar al-Awlaki, but announced they are still pursuing a legal challenge [JURIST reports] to the licensing scheme. The Obama administration has defended [JURIST report] its use of targeted killings, specifically those made by unmanned predator drone strikes [JURIST news archive]. State Department Legal Adviser [official website] Harold Koh [academic profile] has said the drones "comply with all applicable law" because they target only military targets and enable minimal damage to civilians and civilian structures. Last October, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston [official website] noted that the use of unmanned drones by the US to carry out attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan may be illegal [JURIST report].

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