The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy websites] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release] Wednesday challenging the US government's targeted killing of three US citizens in drone strikes. Senior al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] leader and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive] was killed by drone strike [JURIST report] last September along with another American, Samir Khan. Two weeks later drone strikes killed 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, Anwar Al-Awlaki's son. The plaintiffs claim that senior CIA and military officials violated the Constitution and international law when they authorized and directed the drone strikes, which they claim occurred outside of armed conflict:
Since 2001, and routinely since 2009, the United States has carried out deliberate and premeditated killings of suspected terrorists overseas. The US practice of "targeted killing" has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, including many hundreds of civilian bystanders. While some targeted killings have been carried out in the context of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many have taken place outside the context of armed conflict, in countries including Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Sudan, and the Philippines. These killings rely on vague legal standards, a closed executive process, and evidence never presented to the courts. This case concerns the role of Defendants ... in authorizing and directing the killing of three American citizens in Yemen last year. The killings violated fundamental rights afforded to all US citizens, including the right not to be deprived of life without due process of law.The suit names as defendants Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus, Adm. William McRaven, Commander of the US Special Operations Command and Gen. Joseph Votel, Commander of the Joint Special Operations Command.
Awlaki, a dual US-Yemeni citizen, had been approved for targeting killing by the Obama administration, an action that was challenged based on Awlaki's US citizenship. In December 2010, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST reports] challenging the Obama administration's ability to conduct "targeted killings" in al-Awlaki's case. Judge John Bates found that the court lacked jurisdiction over the case, filed by the ACLU and the CCR on behalf of Awlaki's father, dismissing it on procedural grounds and noting that important questions remain. Bates heard arguments [JURIST report] in the case in November 2010 on the same day Awlaki called for jihadist attacks on US citizens in a video posted on extremist websites. Earlier that month Yemeni prosecutors charged [JURIST report] Awlaki with incitement to kill foreigners, and he was later sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison.