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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.

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Richard Samp, chief counsel of the Washington Legal Foundation, praised the ruling.

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“It is wholly proper for the American military to be making plans to defeat Al Qaeda by eliminating its military leaders,” Mr. Samp said. “Anwar al-Awlaki is a leader of an Al Qaeda affiliate. His US citizenship does not entitle him to an exemption from the normal rules of war.”

Awlaki is a militant Muslim cleric who US officials say is an operational member of the Islamic terror group Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula. He was born in the US of Yemeni parents and attended Colorado State University and San Diego State University.

He is suspected of assisting in the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a commercial jetliner near Detroit. He is also considered an effective recruiting asset for Al Qaeda among Muslims in the US.

Awlaki has never been publicly charged with a crime. It remains unclear what criteria the Obama administration has used to determine that he should be killed.

Bates acknowledged that it is a “drastic measure” for the government to use lethal force against one of its own citizens. But he said it is up to the policymaking branches of government to decide when “drastic measures” should be taken.

“This Court does not hold that the Executive possesses unreviewable authority to order the assassination of any American whom he labels an enemy of the state,” Bates wrote. “Rather, the Court only concludes that it lacks the capacity to determine whether a specific individual in hiding overseas, whom the director of national intelligence has stated is an ‘operational’ member of [Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula], presents such a threat to national security that the United States may authorize the use of lethal force against him.”

Bates said judges are “functionally ill-equipped to make the types of complex policy judgments that would be required to adjudicate” such a case.

He said the case would require him to “understand and assess the capabilities of the [alleged] terrorist operative to carry out a threatened attack, what response would be sufficient to address that threat, possible diplomatic considerations that may bear on such responses, the vulnerability of potential targets that the [alleged] terrorist may strike, the availability of military and nonmilitary options, and the risks to military and nonmilitary personnel in attempting application of non-lethal force.”

In finding that Awlaki’s father lacked standing to bring the lawsuit, Bates said that it appears that the son could have filed a lawsuit on his own behalf, but has declined to do so.

He cited statements and recorded messages that have appeared in recent months – including a vow from Awlaki that he would never surrender to American authorities.

“The fact that [Awlaki] has not brought suit during the past 10 months that his name has allegedly appeared on ‘kill lists’ strongly suggests that his rights are either not truly at stake or not truly important to him,” the judge said.

Bates said Awlaki himself holds the key to preventing the US from moving forward with its alleged “kill list” plan. He said Awlaki, like any other US citizen, could avail himself of the protections of the US judicial system.

But the judge added: “No US citizen may simultaneously avail himself of the US judicial system and evade US law enforcement authorities.”

“[Awlaki] would not be killed if he were to present himself in a peaceful manner and seek relief in the US courts,” Bates wrote. The judge recognized the drawback in this course of action for Awlaki. “He would expose himself to possible detention as an enemy combatant,” the judge acknowledged.

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