Lawsuit filed against the U.S. military and CIA over drone assassination program
By End the Lie
The legality of America’s drone-based “targeted killing” program has recently come under fire in court, although mostly over the general basis on which the government can claim that meeting in secret to decide someone’s death counts as due process.
Unfortunately, lawyers for the government continue to invoke the privilege of state secrecy in order to avoid even having to confirm or deny that such a program exists to begin with, never mind actually addressing the legal basis for the practice.
Now the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have joined forces to fight on behalf of family members of three Americans who were murdered last year in drone strikes in Yemen.
The lawsuit targets top-ranking United States government officials, alleging that they actually killed the three Americans, including a 16-year-old boy.
They allege that this action violated international human rights law and the United States Constitution itself, a fact echoed by human rights lawyers stating that British civilians are actually “parties to murders” which are carried out by U.S. drones.
This lawsuit is groundbreaking, to say the least, and is the first lawsuit to actually challenge the legality of specific killings as well as the first to argue that the U.S. was not actually engaged in an armed conflict in Yemen at the time of the killing, thereby prohibiting the use of lethal force.
The ACLU and CCR are both quite critical of the drone program in general, stating that it is responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of deaths of innocent civilians.
However, there are some exceptions for the use of lethal force in an area where the U.S. is not engaged in an armed conflict. Lethal force is prohibited in all cases except when “at the time it is applied, lethal force is a last resort to protect against a concrete, specific, and imminent threat of death or serious physical injury.”
The ACLU and CCR are thus directly challenging the government’s authority to decide to kill Americans in cold blood without any meaningful judicial scrutiny whatsoever.
“The government has killed three Americans. It should account for its actions. This case gives us an opportunity to do that,” said deputy legal director for the ACLU Jameel Jaffer in a press call, according to Threat Level.
Essentially, according to Jaffer, “the question is whether the government is justified in killing without charging them or trying them for anything.”
This particular case swirls around the killing of radical cleric and alleged al Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki, a New Mexico-born American citizen.
Awlaki is the same individual who once dined at the Pentagon and yet the Obama administration claimed – but never had to prove, mind you – that Awlaki became an operational planner and recruiter for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Others who were killed in the effort to take Awlaki out of the picture were Samir Khan, the editor of “Inspire,” allegedly published by AQAP, and in a separate attack two weeks later, Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.
However, the Washington Post cited U.S. officials who claimed that the killings of Khan and Awlaki’s son were not intentional. If 16-year-old Awlaki was killed by the same missile which killed his father they might have an argument here, but clearly that is not the case.
Some of the defendants in the case include none other than U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency David Petraeus, U.S. Navy Admiral William H. McRaven and U.S. Army Major General Joseph Votel.
Unfortunately, I don’t see the future of this lawsuit as all that bright given the fate of previous battles against the drone assassination program in the so-called justice system.
Furthermore, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has claimed that the legal authority handed over by Congress after the tragic events of September 11th, 2001 actually extends to both Yemen and Somalia.
Holder added that they only do this with “the consent of the nation involved or after a determination that the nation is unable or unwilling to deal effectively with a threat to the United States.”
Personally, I see this turning out like so many of the other cases: the government will just stonewall the efforts of those filing the lawsuit and simply refuse to confirm or deny that they even killed the Awlakis and Khan.
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