Obama administration invokes state secrets to block targeted killings lawsuit

The Obama administration on Sept. 24 filed a brief with the District Court for the District of Columbia, asking the court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the legality of targeted killings of terrorism suspects. The lawsuit, filed by the father of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaqi, seeks an injunction to prevent the government from killing al-Awlaqi 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.

In a document 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-Awlaqi has been made public by the US 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-Awlaqi, does not have standing to file the lawsuit. The government said that if Anwar al-Awlaqi wants to have access to the US legal system he should “surrender to authorities and be held accountable for his actions.”

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

From Jurist, Sept. 25. Used with permission.

  1. “Targetted killing” case dismissed
    From the ACLU, Dec. 8:

    We brought the case on behalf of Nasser Al-Aulaqi, whose US citizen son, Anwar Al-Aulaqi, has been put on a secret hit list by the government. In a decision issued today, the judge emphasized that the case raises critically important questions, including whether “the Executive [can] order the assassination of a US citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization.” The court nevertheless dismissed the case on the basis of “standing”—ruling that our client does not have the right to represent the interests of his son—and on the grounds that the case raises “political questions” that are not subject to judicial review. He did not rule on the merits of the case.