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Terrorism

Judge Tosses Suit Seeking to Prevent Targeted Killing of Cleric Who Urged Jihad

Posted Dec 7, 2010 12:24 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the government’s targeted killing of a Muslim cleric believed to be hiding in Yemen.

U.S. District Judge John Bates said the suit, brought by the father of Anwar al-Awlaki, the targeted cleric, cannot go forward because the plaintiff lacks standing and his claims are nonjusticiable under the political question doctrine, according to the opinion (PDF).

Bates said the merits claims in the case raise serious issues of separation of powers and national security. Al-Awlaki has appeared on videos urging Muslims to kill Americans, and he is on a capture or kill list, the Associated Press reports, relying on information from unnamed administration officials. Al-Awlaki, an American citizen, has been linked to the Fort Hood shootings and the would-be underwear bomber.

The opinion notes “stark and perplexing questions,” including this one: “How is it that judicial approval is required when the United States decides to target a U.S. citizen overseas for electronic surveillance, but that, according to defendants, judicial scrutiny is prohibited when the United States decides to target a U.S. citizen overseas for death?”

But the court can’t reach the legal issues absent jurisdiction, Bates said.

“To be sure, this court recognizes the somewhat unsettling nature of its conclusion—that there are circumstances in which the executive's unilateral decision to kill a U.S. citizen overseas is ‘constitutionally committed to the political branches’ and judicially unreviewable,” Bates wrote. “But this case squarely presents such a circumstance.”

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