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ACLU Sues Administration for Targeted Killings

ACLU Sues Administration for Targeted Killings


The ACLU recently filed suit questioning the Obama administration’s behavior in the death of U.S. born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan and al-Awlaki’s son.

The lawsuit alleges that al-Awlaki was specifically targeted by the government as an important operative in the Al Qaeda hierarchy on the Arabian Peninsula. The deaths of al-Awaki, Khan and al- Awlaki’s 16-year-old son two weeks later were all by drone attacks. The lawsuit seeks disclosure of both the legal and factual basis for the executions.

In a post by Glenn Greenwald, author and former Constitutional and Civil Rights litigator, wrote that the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn “what legal theories [the administration] adopted to secretly target U.S. citizens for execution, and what factual basis [the administration had] to launch these specific strikes.”  They received no response from either the DOJ or the CIA on this request.

On the most fundamental level, the lawsuit asks why the Obama administration is manipulating its secrecy powers. Greenwald asks, can a government target its own citizens for death in secrecy and then insist on the right to do so without even having to explain its legal and factual rationale for what it is doing? He then goes to great length to chide the administration for having gone into office with transparency as a key part of its arsenal and now having to admit its own hypocrisy.

Greenwald asserts the administration has bragged anonymously to the press to prove that al-Awlaki was indeed the highest level operative, and thus they had legal authority to “target citizens for killing without a trial.” Yet when the rule of law is invoked, the DOJ will neither confirm or deny their authority.

The ACLU argument is as follows:

The government has a self-serving attitude toward transparency and disclosure that is unacceptable. Officials cannot be allowed to release bits of information about the targeted killing program when they think it will bolster their position, but refuse even to confirm the existence of a targeted killing program when organizations like the ACLU or journalists file FOIA requests in the service of real transparency and accountability.

The American public’s response to these killings has been much more emotional. One could even call it very Protestant, along the lines of  ”An eye for an eye,” or “Do not mess with us.” The capturing or killing of Bin Laden and any other supposed terrorist who has threatened the safety of America’s citizens have been accepted by the public as morally expendable. Such swift and decisive action on the administration’s part has only served to prove the Obama administration is making the world a safer place.

Fareed Zakaria noted that “Even before the torrent of drone attacks that crippled al-Qaeda, even before the killing of Osama bin Laden, even before Libya, most Americans gave Obama positive marks for his handling of foreign policy.” So it is ironic that on foreign policy, where he receives his highest achievements, the administration is being sued for breaking the law.

Greenwald’s post cast a wider net. He is alleging both the Obama and Bush DOJs have used secrecy as a privilege to shield their behavior, bad and good, including “eavesdropping, rendition, torture, drones, civilian killings … from judicial review, i.e., from the rule of law.”

As an advocacy group, the ACLU serves as a check and balance to possible abuse of governmental powers without regard to which party controls the government. Most Americans do not monitor process as much as results.  Greenwald’s position serves to remind us that not every policy that serves our national security may align with our personal beliefs.


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Photo of Anwar al-Awlaki from Awlaki_1008.JPG: Muhammad ud-Deen via flickr

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12:04PM PST on Feb 9, 2012

sadly, the fact that the mad man of Ft Hood still is fresh in my mind. I have a niece stationed there and my brother and sons in law are still active military. This is one issue I will have to say I stand with Obama on. The influence this man had on the crazies in NY and Texas, is too close to home for me. I respect all of our civil liberties, but not when it is at the expense of other Americans' lives.

4:37AM PST on Feb 8, 2012

Thanks for the article.

7:10PM PST on Feb 6, 2012

I think the people criticizing the ACLU are missing the point... President Obama signed off on the ability of the government to target and kill any American citizen anywhere on the basis of secret evidence that cannot been seen or challenged.

A big problem in the country is that political polarization is helping strip us of our rights. Conservatives did not balk when Bush did things that stripped us of basic rights because they trusted Bush and did not want to attack a sitting Republican president. Liberals and moderates are now doing the same with President Obama. When the administration breaks the law, they need to be held to account, whether or not I voted for them.

This is how we get politicians who believe they can act above the law because the law is no longer the law... it has become "politics."

5:28AM PST on Feb 6, 2012

I wonder if they would act differently if he had carried out an attack against us.

5:12AM PST on Feb 6, 2012

Nobody should be above the law. Well, Governments excepted. They kill when they feel like it.

3:16AM PST on Feb 6, 2012

When I said the ACLU was passe', I meant they don't have the much power protecting our rights.
Example: TSA.

10:52PM PST on Feb 5, 2012

thanks for the article its high time some one had raised the question of target killing by CIA agency with out any trial

2:15PM PST on Feb 5, 2012

Thanks for the post

10:48AM PST on Feb 5, 2012

Great news! I'm glad to hear that someone is taking this issue seriously.

10:37AM PST on Feb 5, 2012

The ACLU has gone off the deep end on this and other issues in recent years that and is the very reason I dropped my membership 3 years ago.

Obviously the ACLU does not understand the situation with this and many other causes it has supported. The ACLU needs to view it's policies and do a long hard review of their organization. The purpose was to defend the Bill of Rights now they are too political and have lost sight of the original mission.

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