Federal Judge Troubled by Government Argument That US Targeted Killings Not Subject to Court Review

Including that of a sixteen-year-old American citizen in Yemen


killed in drone strike
family photo

A year ago, Nasser Al-Awlaki, the father of Anwar Al-Awlaki, along with the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights, sued over the constitutionality of the CIA's drone program, which they contended had killed Al-Awlaki, his sixteen year old son Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, and Samir Khan, all US citizens. It wasn't until this May, however, that the White House, via a letter from Eric Holder to Congress, admitted responsibility for the killings. According to Holder, only the older Al-Awlaki was specifically targeted by the US. The disclosure came only two months after a federal appeals court ruled the CIA could not decline to confirm or deny a drone program that had become secret-in-name-only. And despite President Obama's occasional lip service to  contemplation or discussion, government stonewalling continues.

Today, a federal judge heard the Department of Justice's argument about why Al-Awlaki, the ACLU, and the CCR couldn't challenge the US killing of Al-Awlaki, his son, and Khan. The government argued that its killing of US citiziens was "extraordinary" and not a regular occurrence, and that the courts did not have a place in reviewing those security decisions. The judge found that argument "troubling," pointing out the America was "a nation of laws." Nevertheless, she has not yet made a ruling on the government's motion to dismiss.

Nasser Al-Awlaki, notably, had gone to court to prevent the killing of his son in 2010, but that judge dismissed the case, ruling that Al-Awlaki did not have standing (like his son, the target, might) and that the matter raised "political questions" beyond the court's purview. On the op-ed page of yesterday's New York Times, Al-Awlaki explained how he's spent two years trying to find out why his grandson (along with a teenage cousin and five others at an open-air restaurant in Yemen) was killed in a drone strike; President Obama has never publicly addressed the killing of the 16-year-old, though Robert Gibbs appeared to blame the boy's dad.