US Court dismisses Yemen drone strike lawsuit

Judge rejects claim by family members of US citizens killed by drones that deaths violated constitutional rights.

Last updated: 05 Apr 2014 02:34
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US citizens Anwar Al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed in a US drone strike in Yemen [AP]

A US court has dismissed a lawsuit against President Barack Obama’s administration for drone-strike killings of three US citizens in Yemen in 2011.

US District Judge Rosemary Collyer dismissed the case brought on behalf of Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan’s families.

US-born Al-Awlaki, a dual Yemeni-American citizen, and father of five was killed along with Khan, a US citizen of Pakistani origin, alleged to be the co-editor of al-Qaeda's Inspire magazine in September 2011.

The court's view that it cannot provide a remedy for extrajudicial killings... is profoundly at odds with the Constitution.

Hina Shamsi, Director, American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project

Al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdul Rahman, was killed the following month.

Filed against former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and former CIA Director David Petraeus, the case alleged the killings violated the constitutional rights of the three Americans.

Judge Collyer said "the fact is that Anwar al-Awlaki was an active and exceedingly dangerous enemy of the United States, irrespective of his distance, location and citizenship."

She said that the government moved against al-Awlaki in accordance with the Authorisation for Use of Military Force, which was enacted by the US congress after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Collyer said al-Awlaki's classification as a key leader raised fundamental questions regarding the conduct of armed conflict, with the constitution designating decision-making in this area to the president, as commander in chief of the US army, and to congress.

US authorities had accused al-Awlaki of having links with Major Nidal Hasan, who shot dead 13 people at Fort Hood military base in Texas in November 2009, and Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian student accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound Christmas Day aircraft in 2009.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in 2010, Al-Awlaki denied inciting Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab in the attempted bombing of the US-bound plane.

Speaking to congressional leaders last year, US attorney general Eric Holder said "the decision to target al-Awlaki was lawful, it was considered, and it was just,"

Hinder US interests

The court dismissed the motion allowing a lawsuit against individual officials saying it "would hinder their ability in the future to act decisively and without hesitation in defense of US interests."

"Defendants must be trusted and expected to act in accordance with the US constitution when they intentionally target a US citizen abroad at the direction of the president and with the concurrence of congress," said Collyer.

Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project, called it a “deeply troubling decision that treats the government's allegations as proof while refusing to allow those allegations to be tested in court.”

"The court's view that it cannot provide a remedy for extrajudicial killings when the government claims to be at war, even far from any battlefield, is profoundly at odds with the Constitution," said Shamsi, one of the attorneys who argued the case.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon told the Associated Press news agency "we believe the court reached the right result." 

The Obama administration had argued that the issue was best left to Congress and the executive branch, not judges, and that courts have recognised that the defense of the nation should be left to those political branches.


Associated Press
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