NEW YORK - The
American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights
(CCR) today filed a lawsuit challenging the government's asserted
authority to carry out "targeted killings" of U.S. citizens located far
from any armed conflict zone.
The authority contemplated by the Obama administration is far broader
than what the Constitution and international law allow, the groups
charge. Outside of armed conflict, both the Constitution and
international law prohibit targeted killing except as a last resort to
protect against concrete, specific and imminent threats of death or
serious physical injury. An extrajudicial killing policy under which
names are added to CIA and military "kill lists" through a secret
executive process and stay there for months at a time is plainly not
limited to imminent threats.
"The United States cannot simply execute people, including its own
citizens, anywhere in the world based on its own say-so," said Vince
Warren, Executive Director of CCR. "The law prohibits the government
from killing without trial or conviction other than in the face of an
imminent threat that leaves no time for deliberation or due process.
That the government adds people to kill lists after a bureaucratic
process and leaves them on the lists for months at a time flies in the
face of the Constitution and international law."
The groups charge that targeting individuals for execution who are
suspected of terrorism but have not been convicted or even charged -
without oversight, judicial process or disclosed standards for placement
on kill lists - also poses the risk that the government will
erroneously target the wrong people. In recent years, the U.S.
government has detained many men as terrorists, only for courts or the
government itself to discover later that the evidence was wrong or
According to today's legal complaint, the government has not disclosed
the standards it uses for authorizing the premeditated and deliberate
killing of U.S. citizens located far from any battlefield. The groups
argue that the American people are entitled to know the standards being
used for these life and death decisions.
"A program that authorizes killing U.S. citizens, without judicial
oversight, due process or disclosed standards is unconstitutional,
unlawful and un-American," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of
the ACLU. "We don't sentence people to prison on the basis of secret
criteria, and we certainly shouldn't sentence them to death that way. It
is not enough for the executive branch to say ‘trust us' - we have seen
that backfire in the past and we should learn from those mistakes."
CCR and the ACLU were retained by Nasser Al-Aulaqi to bring a lawsuit in
connection with the government's decision to authorize the targeted
killing of his son, U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Aulaqi, whom the CIA and
Defense Department have targeted for death. The complaint asks a court
to rule that using lethal force far from any battlefield and without
judicial process is illegal in all but the narrowest circumstances and
to prohibit the government from carrying out targeted killings except in
compliance with these standards. It also asks the court to order the
government to disclose the standards it uses to place U.S. citizens on
government kill lists.
Today's lawsuit was filed against the CIA, Defense Department and the
president in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Attorneys on the case are Jameel Jaffer, Ben Wizner and Jonathan Manes
of the ACLU; Pardiss Kebriaei, Maria LaHood and Bill Quigley of CCR; and
Arthur B. Spitzer of the ACLU of the Nation's Capital. Co-counsel in
Yemen is Mohammed Allawo of the Allawo Law Firm and the National
Organization for Defending Human Rights (HOOD).
Read Glenn Greenwald's take on these developments here.