Judge throws out drone lawsuit

Friday was another loss for anti-drone advocates, as a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed against members of the Obama administration. A significant number of individuals and groups have spoken out against drone warfare over the past few years, but their cries continue to go unanswered.

The strike

In 2011, three U.S. citizens were killed by drone strikes in Yemen. The victims were Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim born in New Mexico who had joined al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), his sixteen year-old son Abdulrahman, and Samir Khan, who moved to Yemen in 2009 and worked on al-Qaeda’s English language magazine.

Anwar al-Awlaki and Khan were killed in September 2011 and Abdulrahman was killed the following month. Officials initially claimed Abdulrahman was the intended target, but it was later revealed that his death may have been an accident. There has been no evidence released linking the boy to any terrorist plot.

The case

A lawsuit claiming the 2011 killings were illegal and unconstitutional was brought by Anwar’s father, Nasser al-Awlaki, and Samir Khan’s mother, Sarah Khan.

According to the Associated Press, the suit was filed against then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, then-CIA Director David Petraeus and two commanders in the military’s Special Operations forces.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights represented the families and argued that the drone strikes were a violation of the victims’ constitutional rights to due process and freedom from unreasonable seizure.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer granted the Obama administration’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

“The question presented is whether federal officials can be held personally liable for their roles in drone strikes abroad that target and kill U.S. citizens,” Collyer said in her opinion. “The question raises fundamental issues regarding constitutional principles and it is not easy to answer.”

Judge Collyer, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, said the officials had acted in accordance with the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which was enacted by Congress following the 9/11 attacks.

The reaction

Center for Constitutional Rights lawyer Maria LaHood was troubled by the decision.

“It seems there’s no remedy if the government intended to kill you, and no remedy if it didn’t. This decision is a true travesty of justice for our constitutional democracy and for all victims of the US government’s unlawful killings,” LaHood said.

“We believe the court reached the right result,” Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon said.

No surprises there.


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