ACLU Sues to Block Targeted Killings

By Maya

Aug 31, 2010 1:59pm

ABC News’ Terry Moran reports:

In a case that promises to test the limits of war in the age of terror, the ACLU has filed suit to stop the US government’s practice of targeted assassinations of suspected terrorists around the world.

“The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights,” the ACLU argues in its complaint. “Outside the context of armed conflict, the intentional use of lethal force without prior judicial process is an abridgement of this right except in the narrowest and most extraordinary circumstances.”

The plaintiff in the case is the Nasser al-Aulaqui (Awlaki), the father of Anwar al Awlaki, the fiery Islamist preacher in Yemen who has become a key figure in inspiring, recruiting and possibly directing al Qaeda and other terrorists.

Awlaki reportedly met with two of the 9/11 hijackers, he was in contact with the Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Malik Hassan, and he met with the Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab.

Anwar al Awlaki was born in the United States and is a US citizen. President Obama has ordered his death.

The point of the ACLU suit is that presidents don’t have that power.

From the complaint:

“The government maintains lists of suspects—“kill lists”—against whom lethal force can be used without charge, trial or conviction …. Executive officials are thus invested with sweeping authority to impose extrajudicial death sentences in violation of the Constitution and international law….

“Outside of armed conflict, both the Constitution and international law prohibit targeted killing except as a last resort to protect against concrete, specific, and imminent threats of death or serious physical injury. The summary use of force is lawful in these narrow circumstances only because the imminence of the threat makes judicial process infeasible. A targeted killing policy under which individuals are added to kill lists after a bureaucratic process and remain on these lists for months at a time plainly goes beyond the use of lethal force as a last resort to address imminent threats, and accordingly goes beyond what the Constitution and international law permit.”

Killing Awlaki, the ACLU argues, without the benefit of any due process, violates his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.

“The United States cannot simply execute people, including its own citizens, anywhere in the world based on its own say-so,” said Vince Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is bringing the case along with the ACLU.

The suit also seeks to block the targeted killing of non-US citizens, arguing that such actions—which have become a key tactic in the Obama administration’s approach to the conflict with al-Qaeda and others—are in violation of US treaty obligations and customary international law.

Here’s the complaint (it’s a good read).

ABC News’ Jason Ryan notes that, asked about the suit, CIA spokesman George Little said, “This agency acts in strict accord with American law.”

Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, “While we cannot comment on the specific allegations in the lawsuit, Congress has authorized the use of all necessary and appropriate force against al-Qaeda and associated forces. The U.S. is careful to ensure that all its operations used to prosecute the armed conflict against those forces, including lethal operations, comply with all applicable laws, including the laws of war.  The government has the authority under domestic and international law, as well as the responsibility to its citizens, to use force to defend itself in a manner consistent with those laws. This administration is using every legal measure available to defeat al-Qaeda, and we will continue to do so as long as its forces pose a threat to this nation.”

-Terry Moran

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