US federal judge dismisses targeted killing lawsuit

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In a ruling issued Tuesday a United States federal judge dismissed a lawsuit which attempted to stop the U.S. government from selecting Anwar al-Awlaki for targeted killing.

Anwar al-Awlaki in 2008
Image: Muhammad ud-Deen.

John D. Bates, United States federal judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, wrote in his opinion that the lawsuit was a "unique and extraordinary case" which brought up questions over whether the government had the authority to strategize over killing its own citizens without a previous criminal justice process undertaken. Judge Bates ruled for the United States Department of Justice, and held that various civil rights organizations in addition to Awlaki's father did not have the authority or jurisdiction to start the lawsuit in the first place.

Awlaki's father was supported in the case by two civil rights organizations, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union. In the lawsuit these organizations argued before the court that targeted killing of an individual who does not present an imminent threat of life to citizens is not permitted by international law or by the United States Constitution. Awlaki was born in New Mexico. Yemeni law enforcement officials in November charged Awlaki with connections to Al-Qaeda, and ordered him to be arrested "by any means possible".

U.S. officials have identified Awlaki as an influential leader within the Islamist terrorist organization Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Awlaki has made statements where he encouraged individuals of Muslim faith to murder U.S. citizens. According to Associated Press, Awlaki is located in Yemen. He has been linked to terrorist incidents in the United States including the Fort Hood shooting, the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253, and the Cargo planes bomb plot.

The serious issues regarding the merits of the alleged authorization of the targeted killing of a U.S. citizen overseas must await another day or another nonjudicial forum.

—Judge John D. Bates

AP reported that it received confirmation from Obama administration officials that, "al-Awlaki is on a capture or kill list"; and Agence France-Presse received similar statements from U.S. representatives. However, during the actual process of the Awlaki lawsuit in court, government representatives refused to confirm or deny whether this was the case. The U.S. government put forth the notion during the case that the court did not have jurisdiction to review actions of the President of the United States, due to the fact that the President's choices are intended in a setting of war to prevent the loss of lives of U.S. citizens stemming from acts of terrorism.

Judge Bates wrote a decision which consisted of 83-pages. He was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush. In his ruling, Judge Bates stated, "The serious issues regarding the merits of the alleged authorization of the targeted killing of a U.S. citizen overseas must await another day or another nonjudicial forum." He wrote that the lawsuit brought up, "vital considerations of national security and of military and foreign affairs", including how the President is able to order targeted killing of terrorists who are United States citizens, without "any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization."

The court responded to Awlaki's father's assertions that his son was unable to initiate a lawsuit himself or acquire legal assistance "without disclosing his whereabouts and exposing himself to possible attack by [U.S. government]". Judge Bates replied, "Anwar Al-Aulaqi has made clear that he has no intention of making himself available for criminal prosecution in U.S. courts, remarking in a May 2010 AQAP video interview that he 'will never surrender' to the United States, and that '[i]f the Americans want me, [they can] come look for me.'"


  Learn more about Targeted killing and Anwar al-Awlaki on Wikipedia.