Federal judge hears arguments in targeted killings lawsuit

Written by Carrie Schimizzi Tuesday, 09 November 2010
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Judge John Bates of the US District Court for the District of Columbia heard arguments Monday on the Obama administration's ability to conduct "targeted killings" in the case of radical Muslim cleric and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaqi [news archive].

Counsel for the plaintiffs, including Awlaqi's father, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) argued against the government's right to kill any US citizen labeled a terrorist without a court warrant and demanded it disclose the standards for authorizing the targeted killings outside of combat zones of individuals considered threats to national security. Lawyers for the government argued the case should be dismissed on procedural grounds, saying Awlaqi's father, a citizen of Yemen, has no legal standing to bring the lawsuit and that the case involves state secrets the court is not permitted to examine. ACLU Deputy Legal Director, Jameel Jaffer, who presented arguments for the plaintiffs, said the Fourth and Fifth Amendments present limits to the government's power to target American citizens:
If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state. It's the government's responsibility to protect the nation from terrorist attacks, but the courts have a crucial role to play in ensuring that counterterrorism policies are consistent with the Constitution.

The arguments took place on the same day Awlaqi called for jihadist attacks on US citizens in a video posted on extremist websites and found by SITE intelligence group. In the 23-minute video, Awlaqi speaks in Arabic to jihadists, telling them no special permission is needed to kill Americans or any enemies of Muslims. Awlaqi, a suspected member of al Qaeda, is believed to be linked to Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooting suspect, as well as the Christmas Day airplane bombing attempt.

Last week, Yemeni prosecutors charged Awlaqi with incitement to kill foreigners. Awlaqi is believed to be hiding in Yemen and was charged in absentia. US officials have labeled Awlaqi 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 Awlaqi is hiding. In August, the ACLU and the CCR obtained a specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) license that enables them to represent Awlaqi, but announced they were 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. Last October, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston noted that the use of unmanned drones by the US to carry out attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan may be illegal.

Source: Jurist

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