The administration move will strike some critics as too broad of an assertion of executive power, intended to keep some counterterrorism actions outside of the realm of the courts, said Matthew Waxman, who served in the Bush administration and now is at Columbia Law School.
The administration will face criticism that, contrary to its pledges of greater transparency, it is following the Bush Administration in trying to shield controversial counter-terrorism programs from court and public scrutiny.
"It is seen by some as not just an attempt to assert executive powers, but to make those powers unreviewable," Waxman said. "The Obama administration will face criticism that, contrary to its pledges of greater transparency, it is following the Bush Administration in trying to shield controversial counter-terrorism programs from court and public scrutiny."
But the argument has found success in the courts.
Recently, the administration successfully got a California case challenging an aspect of the Bush administration's "extraordinary rendition program" dismissed by arguing that if the suit were to go forward in open court, it would jeopardize national security.
Awlaki was born in New Mexico in 1971. He left seven years later for Yemen but returned to the United States to attend college at Colorado State University. He obtained a master's degree at San Diego University and later enrolled at George Washington University, but did not complete a Ph.D. program there. He is married with three children.
"He's clearly someone we are looking for," CIA Director Leon Panetta, a defendant in the suit by Awlaki's father and the rights groups, told the Wall Street Journal in March. "There isn't any question that he is one of the individuals that we're focusing on."
Officials say Awlaki may be linked to other terrorism plots in the United States. He has been tied to Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, the accused gunman in the November 2009 shootings at Fort Hood in Texas.
"We take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence community," then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the House Intelligence Committee in February. "[If] we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.
"Whether that American is involved in a group that is trying to attack us, whether that American is a threat to other Americans -- those are the factors involved," Blair said. "We don't target people for free speech. We target them for taking action that threatens Americans."