Anwar Al-Aulaqi’s father sues U.S. government over deadly drone strikes
(Editor’s note: Al-Aulaqi is spelled Al-Awlaki in U.S. government publications.)
The father of accused Al Qaeda leader Anwar Al-Aulaqi has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. government for authorizing and carrying out the 2011 drone strikes that killed the American-born Islamic cleric and his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, in Yemen.
The suit, filed on behalf of Nasser Al-Aulaqi by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, argues that the U.S. drone strikes constituted unlawful assassinations of American citizens who were not charged with any crimes.
Not only did such “targeted killings” run afoul of international human rights law and the law of war, the complaint asserts that they violated the constitutional rights of Anwar Al-Aulaqi, Abudulrahman Al-Aulaqi, and Samir Khan – the three American citizens who were killed in Yemen by unmanned Predator drones.
“This suit is an effort to enforce the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee against the deprivation of life without due process of law,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU’s deputy legal director. “The Constitution does not permit a bureaucratized program under which Americans far from any battlefield are summarily killed by their own government on the basis of shifting legal standards and allegations never tested in court.”
Attorney General Eric Holder defended the deadly drone strikes in March, arguing that the President can order “targeted killings” of American citizens engaged in terrorist activities overseas.
“It is an unfortunate but undeniable fact that some of the threats we face come from a small number of United States citizens who have decided to commit violent attacks against their own country from abroad,” said Holder. ”It’s clear that United States citizenship alone does not make such individuals immune from being targeted.”
Holder said the decisions to authorize “targeted killings” are made only after (1) a “thorough and careful review” showing “imminent threat of violent attack against the United States”; and (2) a determination that capture is not “feasible.”
Anwar Al-Aulaqi was placed on the CIA’s “kill list” in early 2010 after a “closed executive process” involving then-CIA Director Leon Panetta and U.S. Special Operations Commander William McCraven. The American-born radical cleric was accused of leading Al Qaeda’s “media jihad”, which purportedly inspired terrorists like “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan.
“Government officials told reporters that [Anwar] Al-Aulaqi had ‘cast his lot’ with terrorist groups and encouraged others to engage in terrorist activity,” according to the complaint.
But despite those serious accusations, the U.S. government never brought terrorism-related charges against Anwar Al-Aulaqi.
On Sept. 30, 2011, U.S. drones flying over the Yemeni province of al-Jawf fired missiles at Al-Aulaqi’s car, killing at least four people, including Al-Aulaqi.
Among the dead was 26-year-old Samir Khan, an American citizen. The complaint noted that while anonymous government officials accused Khan of being a “propagandist” for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Khan was also never charged with a crime. (His mother, Sarah Khan, is also a plaintiff in this lawsuit.)
The lawsuit maintained that the drone attack was not justified because there was no proof that either Al-Aulaqi or Khan were “engaged in any activity that presented a concrete, specific, and imminent threat of death or physical injury” nor were the two “then directly participating in hostilities within the meaning of the law of war.”
Two weeks after Anwar Al-Aulaqi’s death, U.S. drones struck again. The second strike destroyed an open air restaurant near the town of Azzan, about 200 miles away from where Anwar Al-Aulaqi was killed. The intended target was Ibraham Al-Banna, an Egyptian man who served as Al Qaeda’s media chief in Yemen. The strike, however, ended up killing 7 people, including Anwar Al-Aulaqi’s son, Abdulrahman, who was 16 at the time.
“I want Americans to know about my grandson, that he was very nice boy,” said Nasser Al-Aulaqi, a former Fulbright scholar who served as Yemen’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. “He was raised in America…and I never thought that one day, this boy, this nice boy will be killed by his own government for no wrong he did certainly. Because, you know, how can a 16 year old boy will do anything wrong against anybody?”
Nasser Al-Aulaqi and Sarah Khan are seeking damages for the wrongful deaths of their family members. The lawsuit, Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
- Center for Constitutional Rights: Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta complaint filed on July 18, 2012 (PDF)
- American Civil Liberties Union: Rights Groups File Challenge To Killings of Three Americans in U.S. Drone Strikes
- WhatTheFolly.com: AG Holder: President can order ‘targeted killings’ of Americans abroad
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Attorney General Eric Holder on the legal justifications for targeted killings of Americans abroad