WASHINGTON (CN) - U.S. law offers no relief to the family of terrorist Anwar Al-Aulaqi and two other U.S. citizens whom their government killed in Yemen drone strikes, a federal judge ruled.
Au-Aulaqi and Samir Kahn were killed on Sept. 30, 2011, when a missile launched from an unmanned U.S. drone struck their vehicle in Yemen. Two weeks later, another drone missile struck a Yemen cafe and killed Al-Aulaqi's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, and others.
Al-Aulaqi, his son and Kahn were all U.S. citizens.
Kahn's mother joined Nasser Al-Aulaqi, father to Anwar and grandfather to Abdulrahman, in a 2012 lawsuit that challenged the drone strikes as a violation of due process and as an act of unreasonable seizure.
The complaint relies on the Supreme Court's 1971 decision Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which permits a claim for damages against a federal officer for a violation of a plaintiff's clearly established constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer tossed the case Friday, however, because she found that "special factors counsel hesitation in implying a Bivens remedy in these circumstances."
"The fact is that Anwar Al-Aulaqi was an active and exceedingly dangerous enemy of the United States, irrespective of his distance, location, and citizenship," the 41-page opinion states.
Collyer noted that the 40-year-old terrorist was "a key leader" of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and had trained the so-called Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
In pleading guilty to having tried to detonate an explosive device aboard a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, Abdulmutallab "described in detail the nature of Anwar Al-Aulaqi's participation in the attack," according to the ruling.
"As evidenced by his participation in the Christmas Day attack, Anwar Al-Aulaqi was able to persuade, direct, and wage war against the United States from his location in Yemen, i.e., without being present on an official battlefield or in a 'hot' war zone," Collyer wrote.
In targeting Al-Aulaqi, the government properly relied on the Authorization for Use of Military Force, according to the ruling.
"The persons holding the jobs of the named defendants must be trusted and expected to act in accordance with the U.S. Constitution when they intentionally target a U.S. citizen abroad at the direction of the President and with the concurrence of Congress," Collyer wrote. "They cannot be held personally responsible in monetary damages for conducting war."
Collyer noted from the outset of the opinion that "it is not easy to answer" the question of "whether federal officials can be held personally liable for their roles in drone strikes abroad that target and kill U.S. citizens."
"In this delicate area of warmaking, national security, and foreign relations, the judiciary has an exceedingly limited role," she concluded. "This court is not equipped to question, and does not make a finding concerning, defendants' actions in dealing with AQAP generally or Anwar Al-Aulaqi in particularly. Its role is much more modest: only to ensure that the circumstances of the exercise of war powers against a specifically-targeted U.S. citizen overseas do not call for the recognition of a new area of Bivens relief."
The decision also cites a previous unsuccessful lawsuit that Nasser Al-Aulaqi had filed after the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command had placed Anwar on a military "kill list" and tried unsuccessfully to kill him more than a year before the successful strike.
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