Obama administration seeks to dismiss al-Awlaki lawsuit

The Obama administration has invoked the state secret privilege in seeking to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of the father of Yemeni-American cleric and militant Anwar al-Awlaki, which sought to prevent the U.S. government from trying to target him for assassination. al-Awlaki sought an injunction and force the administration to publicly reveal its criteria for determining who can be targeted. The Justice Department, while refusing to confirm that the targeted kill program existed, said in a court filing that the father has no legal standing to sue and that U.S. courts should not interfere with how the government protects the country.

It also contended that the case “would require the disclosure of highly sensitive national security information concerning alleged military and intelligence actions overseas.”

The lawsuit, which never denies that Anwar al-Awlaki is an active leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, asks a court to take the unprecedented step of intervening in military matters and directing the president how to manage military action — all for the benefit of a leader of a foreign terrorist organization. (…) It strains credulity to argue that our laws require the government to disclose to an active, operational terrorist any information about how, when and where we fight terrorism, Matthew Miller, Justice Department spokesman, said in a statement Saturday.

The court filing said the injunction sought by the al-Awlaki’s father “would be unprecedented, improper and extraordinarily dangerous.” It would “improperly inject the courts” into the administration’s decisions on “how to protect the American people from the threat of armed attacks.”

Miller notes the lawsuit – which never denies Anwar al-Awlaki’s militant activity – said if al-Awlaki “wishes to access our legal system,” he should surrender and then “be held accountable for his actions.”

But the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights -which filed suit in August on behalf of the father, Nasser al-Awlaki – said in a joint statement that the “idea that courts should have no role whatsoever in determining the criteria by which the executive branch can kill its own citizens is unacceptable in a democracy. In matters of life and death, no executive should have a blank check.”

Within the administration’s legal team there is wide consensus that it is lawful to target Mr. Awlaki. But some lawyers had disagreed on  what arguments they should muster to have the lawsuit dismissed. In the end, the faction favoring a more expansive approach won out, the New York Times reports.

While the government’s brief did not confirm that Mr. Awlaki was being targeted, it contended, among other things, that his father, Nasser al-Awlaki, had no legal standing, that targeting decisions are for the executive branch to determine and that litigating the matter would jeopardize state secrets. The brief also included a classified annex.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. approved making the state-secrets argument. Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said it was necessary in this case.

“It strains credulity to argue that our laws require the government to disclose to an active, operational terrorist any information about how, when and where we fight terrorism,” Mr. Miller said.

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