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International Law

Secret Justice Department Memo Authorized Killing of Al-Awlaki; ACLU Objects

Posted Oct 3, 2011 5:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The U.S. Justice Department wrote a secret memo authorizing the killing of American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki before he died in a U.S. drone strike on Friday, according to a published report.

Unidentified administration officials told the Washington Post that senior lawyers across the administration considered the issues, and all agreed the killing was legal.

The sources did not disclose the memo’s legal analysis, but one official offered a justification. “What constitutes due process in this case is a due process in war,” the source told the Post. Obama said Friday that Awlaki was the external operations chief for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

The American Civil Liberties Union opposed the targeted killing, arguing it violated the U.S. Constitution and international law. “The government's authority to use lethal force against its own citizens should be limited to circumstances in which the threat to life is concrete, specific and imminent,” ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement. “It is a mistake to invest the president—any president—with the unreviewable power to kill any American whom he deems to present a threat to the country.”

The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights had represented Awlaki’s father in a federal lawsuit seeking to block the targeted killing of the cleric. U.S. District Judge John Bates dismissed the suit in December. The Washington, D.C., judge ruled that the father did not have standing, and his claims were nonjusticiable under the political question doctrine.

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