WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the government from trying to kill a U.S.-born Muslim cleric and violent jihadist believed to be hiding in Yemen. U.S. District Judge John Bates said the controversial legal questions raised by targeted killings “must wait another day.”
Calling the case “unique and extraordinary,” Bates said the father of cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who has been accused of aiding al-Qaida, lacks standing to sue on his son’s behalf.
Al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico in 1971 and served as an imam in Virginia and California. He has called for “jihad against the West” and has praised the actions of suspected terrorists, including Maj. Nadal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged in last year’s shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas.
Al-Awlaki’s father, Nasser al-Awlaki, claims his son has been placed on the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command’s “kill lists” without “charge, trial or conviction.”
He sought an order barring the U.S. government from killing his son “unless he presents a concrete, specific, and imminent threat to life or physical safety, and there are no means other than lethal force that could reasonably be employed to neutralize the threat.”
The government moved to dismiss on several grounds, including the state-secrets privilege and the political question doctrine.
Judge Bates agreed that “courts are ill-equipped to make the types of complex policy judgments that would be required to adjudicate the merits of plaintiff’s claims.”
He found that Nasser lacks standing to sue on his adult son’s behalf, and that he can’t sue under the Alien Tort Statute.
Though Bates dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds, he said the case raised “[s]tark, and perplexing, questions,” including:
“How is it that judicial approval is required when the United States decides to target a U.S. citizen overseas for electronic surveillance, but that, according to defendants, judicial scrutiny is prohibited when the United States decides to target a U.S. citizen overseas for death?
“Can a U.S. citizen — himself or through another — use the U.S. judicial system to vindicate his constitutional rights while simultaneously evading U.S. law enforcement authorities, calling for ‘jihad against the West,’ and engaging in operational planning for an organization that has already carried out numerous terrorist attacks against the United States?
“Can the Executive order the assassination of a U.S. citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization?
“How can the courts, as plaintiff proposes, make real-time assessments of the nature and severity of alleged threats to national security, determine the imminence of those threats, weigh the benefits and costs of possible diplomatic and military responses, and ultimately decide whether, and under what circumstances, the use of military force against such threats is justified?
“When would it ever make sense for the United States to disclose in advance to the ‘target’ of contemplated military action the precise standards under which it will take that military action?”
Though these questions “are controversial and of great public interest,” Bates said, he lacks jurisdiction to address them.
“Because these questions of justiciability require dismissal of this case at the outset, the serious issues regarding the merits of the alleged authorization of the targeted killing of a U.S. citizen overseas must await another day or another (non-judicial) forum,” he wrote (parentheses in original).