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US Families of Drone Victims, Rights Groups File Lawsuit

"Illegal, out of control, and must end”

Common Dreams staff

A US Predator drone sets off from its hangar at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. (AFP/Bonny Schoonakker)

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alongside family members of three US citizens who were killed in US drone strikes last year filed a lawsuit Wednesday against senior CIA and military officials. The lawsuit contends that the authorization of drone strikes which lead to the death of the three US citizens violated the US Constitution and international law.

The ACLU and the CCR contend that the drone strikes were part of a broader practice of extrajudicial “targeted killing” by the US and an assault on constitutional rights and due process.

“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.”

The suit refers specifically to an incident on September 30, 2011, when US drones killed US citizens Anwar Al-Aulaqi and Samir Khan, as well as a similar incident two weeks later when a US drone killed Al-Aulaqi’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, at a restaurant. Both attacks occurred in Yemen.

Al-Aulaqi had been placed on CIA and Joint Special Operations Command “kill lists” a year before; however, the US government has never charged any of the victims 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 US 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.”

The suit aims to force the Obama administration to disclose details about the decisions that led to the attacks. 'Targeted Killings' of civilians around the world have become commonplace practices of the Obama administration, which has recently come under scrutiny by the United Nation's Human Rights Council (UNHRC). UN investigator and special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, condemned the continued use of US drones to assassinate suspected militants and questioned the legality of the Obama administration's program under international law.

The current suit 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.

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