Rights groups challenge US regulation restricting legal assistance for terror suspects

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy websites] on Tuesday filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] challenging the constitutionality of a federal regulation making it a crime to provide legal services to, or on behalf of, individuals labeled Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) without a government-issued license. A SDGT designation is issued by the Treasury Department under federal law [50 USC § 1701 et seq. text], freezing the assets of the individual and preventing the provision of legal services without a license from the government. The suit was filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] in relation to the case of Anwar al-Awlaki [NYT profile], a US citizen who is suspected of being a member of al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in Yemen and was labeled a SDGT last month. According to the complaint, the Obama administration approved him for targeted killing in January and has been actively seeking to kill him through unmanned Predator drone strikes. The rights groups were retained by al-Awlaki's father in June to provide pro bono legal assistance in challenging this effort. The groups allege that the legal assistance ban issued by the Treasury Department exceeds its statutory authority and violates the First and Fifth amendments [Cornell LII backgrounders]. The groups argue that it violates their First Amendment rights because it interferes with their "right to represent clients in litigation consistent with their organizational missions," and violates the Fifth Amendment because it prevents US citizens from "obtaining legal representation of their interests in US courts." The ACLU explained its reasons for the lawsuit [press release], stating:

The government is targeting an American citizen for death without any legal process whatsoever, while at the same time impeding lawyers from challenging that death sentence and the government's sweeping claim of authority to issue it. This is a dual blow to some of our most precious liberties, and such an alarming denial of rights in any one case endangers the rights of all Americans. Attorneys shouldn't have to ask the government for permission in order to challenge the constitutionality of the government's conduct.
The complaint seeks either a declaration that the policy is unconstitutional, or an order forcing the Treasury Department to issue a license to represent al-Awlaki.

In March, the ACLU filed suit seeking information [JURIST report] related to the US government's use of unmanned Predator drones, seeking to enforce a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] request [text, PDF] made in January. The ACLU alleges that the unmanned warplanes have been used by the military and CIA for killings in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan and cites troubling reports indicating that US citizens may be targeted and killed by Predator drones. The FOIA request asks "when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized," as well as for information related to civilian casualties. In October, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston [official website] noted that the use of unmanned warplanes by the US to carry out attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan may be illegal [JURIST report].

 

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