While Kevin’s at the Bradley Manning trial, I’ll pick up on something on his beat. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center on Constitutional Rights have sued the Obama Administration over the deaths of three US citizens as part of the still-classified Predator drone program. Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan and al-Awlkai’s son Abdulrahman were all assassinated in Yemen (Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan in the same attack), a fact that the Administration has acknowledged and even touted on various occasions. Because of their status as US citizens, the ACLU argues, they should have been afforded the Constitutional guarantee of due process, rather than an extrajudicial bombing strike. The Attorney General has argued publicly that due process does not necessarily equal judicial process.
Adam Serwer writes:
The ACLU’s lawsuit isn’t about drones, even though drones were used in all three killings in question. Instead, it’s about targeted killings more broadly, including those carried out by drone strikes and those performed by elite American military units. The lawsuit contends that the United States government violated the constitutional rights of the three men by killing them without court review outside of an active war zone.
The Obama administration has contended that it has the authority to target suspected members of Al Qaeda outside the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly if a given individual poses what it calls an “imminent threat.” Although the US government had tagged Anwar al-Awlaki as a terrorist through controlled disclosures to the public and the media, Khan was merely suspected of being a propagandist, and the government has never alleged that Awlaki’s teenage son was involved in terrorism. Moreover, the ACLU argues, the US government has “defined the term ‘imminent’ so broadly as to negate its meaning.”
This continues the fallout over the program, featured in several news articles but never fully challenged as an illegal usurpation of judicial power, putting the executive in the position of judge, jury and executioner. Al-Awlaki’s father and Samir Khan’s mother are the plaintiffs in the suits. Nasser al-Awlaki previously sued to remove his son Anwar from the celebrated “kill list,” but a federal judge refused to intervene. Now, Nasser will sue after the fact, charging the Administration with an unconstitutional killing. At this point, it cannot be denied that Al-Awlaki suffered a concrete harm.
The Administration is expected to invoke the state secrets doctrine to shield itself from accountability on the grounds that they cannot disclose national security secrets about the drone program at court. They have successfully (so far) used this tactic to deny the ACLU documents about the drone program, even though top officials, including the President himself, have discussed it publicly. The official response of the government is to not acknowledge the drone program’s existence.
The ACLU has more on the lawsuit, known as Al-Awlaki v. Panetta. And Glenn Greenwald cites from the brief entered at court. This is an important case that could place limits on the executive to use vague statutes to assert the extrajudicial power to kill its own citizens.