A federal judge on Tuesday threw out a lawsuit aimed at preventing the United States from targeting U.S.-born anti-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki for death.
U.S. District Judge John Bates said in a written opinion that al-Awlaki's father does not have the authority to sue to stop the United States from killing his son. But Bates also said the "unique and extraordinary case" raises serious issues about whether the United States can plan to kill one of its own citizens without judicial review.
Al-Awlaki has urged Muslims to kill Americans and has been linked to last year's shooting at a U.S. Army base in Texas, and the attempted bombing of a U.S.-bound flight last Christmas Day, Dec. 25. He is believed to be hiding in Yemen and has issuedrepeatedly calling for Muslims to kill Americans.
Administration officials have confirmed to The Associated Press that al-Awlaki is on a capture or kill list, although the Obama administration declined to confirm or deny it in court proceedings.
The cleric's father, Nasser al-Awlaki of Yemen, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, argued that international law and the Constitution prevented the Obama administration from unilaterally targeting his son for death unless he presents a specific imminent threat to life or physical safety and there are no other means to stop him. The suit also tried to force the government to disclose standards for determining whether U.S. citizens like his son, born in New Mexico, can be targeted for death.
Administration officials argued the court has no legal authority to review the president as he makes military decisions to protect Americans against terrorist attacks.
Bates, an Army veteran, seemed tempted to take on the legal issues but said he must dismiss the case because Anwar al-Awlaki did not sue himself. "The serious issues regarding the merits of the alleged authorization of the targeted killing of a U.S. citizen overseas must await another day or another nonjudicial forum," he wrote.
Bates said the case raised "vital considerations of national security and of military and foreign affairs." Among them, he wrote, were why courts have authority to approve surveillance of Americans overseas but not their killing and whether the president can order the assassination of a U.S. citizen without "any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization."