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Will the U.S. government get away with the power to target
and kill individuals, including U.S. citizens, far from any armed conflict and without charge, trial, or judicial process?
This is the central question in Al-Aulaqi v. Obama , a lawsuit CCR and the ACLU filed today in federal court.
We recently had a small victory in our efforts
to contest the legality of a kill-list maintained by the U.S. government. On August 3, 2010, we wrote to tell you that we filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury Department and the Office of Foreign Assets
Control (OFAC) to dispute the constitutionality of a licensing scheme that requires lawyers to seek government permission
to represent individuals the same government intends to kill. The government put U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Aulaqi on a kill-list, then added him to an OFAC list last month, making
it a crime for CCR and the ACLU to challenge the government's authority to kill him. On August 4, the day after we filed our lawsuit against OFAC, OFAC granted CCR and the
ACLU a license to provide pro bono legal services to Anwar Al-Aulaqi's father Nasser Al-Aulaqi as representative of his interests.
Although we obtained a license, we will continue to pursue our challenge to the OFAC regulations because it is unconstitutional
to require lawyers to ask the government for permission to challenge the legality of its conduct.
Today, CCR and ACLU have filed a lawsuit on behalf of Nasser Al-Aulaqi against President
Obama, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The
lawsuit aims to stop the U.S. government from carrying out a "targeted killing" far away from any armed
conflict, without due process, and where there is not an imminent threat and lethal force is not necessary. Anwar Al-Aulaqi
has not been charged with any crime, but has reportedly been the target of several strikes in Yemen, a country in which the U.S. is not engaged in war but where air strikes have caused civilian casualties and popular protests, and where he is
believed to be in hiding. Outside the context of armed conflict (Yemen is almost 2000 miles away from Iraq and Afghanistan),
targeted killing is permissible under international law only as a last resort and in the face of a truly imminent threat -
and then only because the imminence of the threat makes judicial process infeasible. Outside these narrow circumstances, targeted
killing amounts to the imposition of a death sentence without charge or trial. The government's authorization to kill
U.S. citizen Al-Aulaqi far from any armed conflict violates his Fourth Amendment
right to be free from excessive force and his Fifth Amendment right to due process before being deprived of life and to have
notice of the criteria that make a person targetable for death. It also constitutes an extrajudicial killing in violation
of international law.
Regardless of the government's allegations against Anwar al-Aulaqi or any
person suspected of wrongdoing, authorizing the death of individuals on secret standards, far from any conflict zone, and
outside of any legal process not only violates the Constitution and international law, but seriously undermines our collective
safety. The executive should not be able to act as judge, jury, and executioner, substituting its own bureaucratic process
for the due process required by law. The U.S. government should
not be able to claim the sweeping authority to carry out extrajudicial killings of U.S. citizens or other individuals far from any actual battlefield, nor make the dangerous contention
that the entire world is now a battlefield. Such assertions of power will inevitably target innocent people-the U.S. government has a long and well-documented history of wrongly accusing both citizens and
foreigners of terrorism and of being a threat to national security-and kill scores of innocent bystanders, undermining the
rule of law and effectively creating a war without boundaries or end.
If the government suspects individuals of criminal
activity, they should be charged and tried in a court of law, not put to death on the government's say-so.
will keep you updated on this important case. To read more, visit our case page .
Thank you for your continued support.
Center for Constitutional Rights