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Rights groups drop suit after government changes terror suspect defense licensing scheme

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy websites] on Friday dropped a lawsuit [notice of dismissal, PDF] challenging the US government's Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) licensing scheme after the government changed the policy. The groups announced in August that they would pursue a legal challenge [JURIST report] to the scheme despite being issued a license to represent Anwar al-Awlaki [NYT profile; JURIST news archive], a US citizen who was labeled an SDGT in July. The SDGT designation is issued by the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) [official website] under federal law [50 USC § 1701 et seq. text], freezing the assets of the individual and preventing the provision of legal services without a license from the government. As of December 7, the policy was changed so that uncompensated lawyers may represent SDGT individuals in any US court or agency without first seeking a license from the government. ACLU legal fellow Jonathan Manes welcomed the new policy [press release], saying, "OFAC's regulations infringed both the free speech rights of attorneys and the due process rights of Americans, but the changes that OFAC has made in response to our lawsuit bring the regulations in line with the Constitution."

Earlier this month, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] dismissed [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging the Obama administration's ability to conduct "targeted killings" in al-Awlaki's case. Judge John Bates found that the court lacked jurisdiction over the case, filed by the ACLU and the CCR on behalf of Awlaki's father, dismissing it on procedural grounds and noting that important questions remain. Bates heard arguments [JURIST report] in the case last month on the same day Awlaki called for jihadist attacks on US citizens in a video posted on extremist websites. Awlaki, a suspected member of al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], is believed to be linked to Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooting suspect, as well as the Christmas Day airplane bombing attempt [JURIST news archive]. Earlier in November, Yemeni prosecutors charged [JURIST report] Awlaki with incitement to kill foreigners. Awlaki is believed to be hiding in Yemen and was charged in absentia. US officials have labeled Awlaki as a terrorist and have placed him on a list to be captured or killed. The Yemeni government has sent forces on a counter-terrorism operation into the Province of Shabwa, where it is believed that Awlaki is hiding.

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