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