Rights Groups File Challenge To Killings of Three Americans in U.S. Drone Strikes

July 18, 2012 11:02 am

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CCR and ACLU Charge That Killings Violated the Constitution and International Law

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New York — The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today filed a lawsuit charging that senior CIA and military officials violated the Constitution and international law when they authorized and directed drone strikes that resulted in the deaths of three U.S. citizens, including a 16-year-old boy, in Yemen last year.

The drone strikes were part of a broader practice of extrajudicial “targeted killing” by the United States outside the context of armed conflict.

“This suit is an effort to enforce the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee against the deprivation of life without due process of law,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. “The Constitution does not permit a bureaucratized program under which Americans far from any battlefield are summarily killed by their own government on the basis of shifting legal standards and allegations never tested in court.”

On September 30, 2011, U.S. strikes killed Anwar Al-Aulaqi, who had been placed on CIA and JSOC “kill lists” over a year before, and another American, Samir Khan. Two weeks later, on October 14, U.S. strikes killed 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, Anwar Al-Aulaqi’s son, at an open-air restaurant.

The complaint argues that these killings occurred outside of armed conflict and violated the Constitution and international law, which prohibit the government from using lethal force except as a last resort to protect against specific, concrete and imminent threats of deadly harm. The complaint also alleges that the government failed to take legally required measures to protect civilian bystanders. The government has never charged any of the three U.S. citizens with a crime.

“When a 16 year-old boy who has never been charged with a crime nor ever alleged to have committed a violent act is blown to pieces by U.S. missiles, alarm bells should go off,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei. “The U.S. program of sending drones into countries in and against which it is not at war and eliminating so-called enemies on the basis of executive memos and conference calls is illegal, out of control, and must end.”

Since 2002, and routinely since 2009, the U.S. government has carried out deliberate and premeditated killings of suspected terrorists overseas. President Obama and the most senior officials of his administration have reportedly been deeply involved not just in setting the parameters for the program but in selecting individual targets. Some government assertions about civilian casualties have been misleading, in part because, as recently reported by the New York Times, the government counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

In 2010, the ACLU and CCR filed suit on behalf of the father of Anwar Al-Aulaqi to challenge the authorization for his son’s death. The district court dismissed the case, holding that his father lacked standing to bring suit, and that the request for before-the-fact judicial review raised non-justiciable “political questions.”

Today’s suit was filed on behalf of Nasser Al-Aulaqi, the father and grandfather of Anwar and Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, and Sarah Khan, the mother of Samir Khan. It names as defendants Defense Secretary Leon Panetta; CIA Director David Petraeus; Adm. William H. McRaven, Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command and Gen. Joseph Votel, Commander of the Joint Special Operations Command.

Attorneys on the case include Jameel Jaffer, Nate Wessler, Hina Shamsi and Art Spitzer of the ACLU, and Pardiss Kebriaei, Maria LaHood and Baher Azmy of Center for Constitutional Rights.

To read a copy of the complaint, click here.

To watch an interview with Nasser Al-Aulaqi, Anwar’s father and Abdulrahman’s grandfather, go to:


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