US government responds to targeted killings lawsuit News
US government responds to targeted killings lawsuit
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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Friday filed a motion to dismiss [text, PDF] a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] challenging the US government’s targeted killing of three US citizens in drone strikes. Senior al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] leader and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive] was killed by drone strike [JURIST report] last September along with another American, Samir Khan. Two weeks later drone strikes killed 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, Anwar Al-Awlaki’s son. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy websites] filed the lawsuit [JURIST report], naming as defendants Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus, Adm. William McRaven, Commander of the US Special Operations Command and Gen. Joseph Votel, Commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. According to the defendants’ motion:

courts repeatedly have recognized that the political branches, with few exceptions, have both the responsibility for—and the oversight of—the defense of the Nation and the conduct of armed conflict abroad. The Judiciary rarely interferes in such arenas. In this case, Plaintiffs ask this Court to take the extraordinary step of substituting its own judgment for that of the Executive. They further ask this Court to create a novel damages remedy, despite the fact that—based on Plaintiffs’ own complaint—their claims are rife with separation-of-powers, national defense, military, intelligence, and diplomatic concerns. Judicial restraint is particularly appropriate here, where Plaintiffs seek non-statutory damages from the personal resources of some of the highest officials in the U.S. defense and intelligence communities. Under these weighty circumstances, this Court should follow the well-trodden path the Judiciary—and particularly the D.C. Circuit—have taken in the past and should leave the issues raised by this case to the political branches.

The ACLU issued a statement [text] condemning the government’s motion.

Awlaki, a dual US-Yemeni citizen, had been approved for targeting killing by the Obama administration, an action that was challenged based on Awlaki’s US citizenship. In December 2010 a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST reports] 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 in November 2010 on the same day Awlaki called for jihadist attacks on US citizens in a video posted on extremist websites. Earlier that month Yemeni prosecutors charged [JURIST report] Awlaki with incitement to kill foreigners, and he was later sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison.