Judge dismisses bid to remove Anwar al-Awlaki from US 'kill list'
A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking to block the US from carrying out the targeted killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who is reportedly on a 'kill list' of terrorism suspects.
A federal judge in Washington ruled on Tuesday that he lacks the authority to hear a lawsuit that sought to block the US government from carrying out the targeted killing of an American citizen hiding in Yemen who is suspected of involvement in terror operations.Skip to next paragraph
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US District Judge John Bates dismissed a lawsuit filed by the father of Anwar al-Awlaki, a dual US-Yemen citizen, who is reportedly on a US “kill list” of terrorism suspects. His ruling clears the way for the Obama administration to conduct the targeted killing – without judicial oversight.
The suit asked the judge to issue an injunction prohibiting the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Department from intentionally killing Mr. Awlaki unless the government could first demonstrate that he posed an imminent threat to life or safety, and that no nonlethal means were available to meet the threat.
Judge Bates said the suit must be dismissed under the political question doctrine, which requires judges to step aside in issues that are best resolved by the elected, political branches of government.
He also ruled that Awlaki’s father, Nasser, lacked the necessary legal standing to litigate the case on his son’s behalf in a US court.
The litigation has attracted attention because it poses stark questions about the limits of constitutional protections of American citizens in national security cases.
Critics question whether the government can order the assassination of a US citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process, based entirely on the government’s assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization. They also question how it is that the government is required to obtain court approval before conducting electronic surveillance of an American citizen overseas, yet judicial oversight is inappropriate when the government identifies that same citizen for targeted killing.
Judge Bates did not confront those central questions in his dismissal order, throwing the case out on procedural grounds. But he acknowledged that questions remain.
“The court recognizes the somewhat unsettling nature of its conclusion – that there are circumstances in which the Executive’s unilateral decision to kill a US citizen overseas is constitutionally committed to the political branches and judicially unreviewable,” Bates wrote in his 83-page decision. “But this case squarely presents such a circumstance.”
He added that the political question doctrine “does not contain any ‘carve-out’ cases involving the constitutional rights of US citizens.”
“If the court’s ruling is correct, the government has the unreviewable authority to carry out the targeted killing of any American, anywhere, whom the president deems to be a threat to the nation,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, said in a written statement. “It would be difficult to conceive of a proposition more inconsistent with the Constitution or more dangerous to American liberty.”