"It is a profound mistake to allow this unparalleled power to be exercised free from the checks and balances that apply in every other context," said Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU. "We continue to believe that the government's power to use lethal force against American citizens should be subject to meaningful oversight by the courts."
Legal experts say the Judge was careful to confine his ruling to the facts presented in this case.
"The judge leaves room for some litigation in a case where the U.S. has already acted" said Stephen I. Vladeck, a professor at American University Washington College of Law, "but finds in this instance that the courts don't have the competence to stop the government from going forward."
Vladeck said the judge was careful in how he wrote the opinion, suggesting it might not apply to U.S. citizens within the United States.
"At least for now, individuals in Awlaki's position are not going to be able to turn to the U.S. courts for any protection."
Bates said he recognizes "the somewhat unsettling nature of [the court's] conclusion" that a judge may sometimes not be able to stop a president from ordering the killing of a U.S. citizen overseas. But he concluded, "This case squarely presents such a circumstance."
He said the case presents fascinating questions, such as whether the president may order "the assassination of a U.S. citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization." But he said such questions must "await another day or another (non-judicial) forum."
At a news conference today, Assistant Attorney General Tony West said, "We are pleased with the court's ruling. People need to remember that this really was an unprecedented case in which plaintiffs were asking a court to review military decisions for the leader of a foreign terrorist organization. And as we said when we filed this case, if Anwar al-Awlaki wants to access to our court system he ought to surrender to authorities and be accountable for his actions. So were pleased with the legal ruling the court has issued and were pleased that the court agreed with us that it did not need to reach state secrets in order to dispose of this case."