The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy websites] filed a lawsuit Monday challenging [complaint, PDF] the US government's authority to conduct "targeted killings" against suspected terrorists. The ACLU and CCR allege that US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki [NYT profile], suspected of being a member of al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in Yemen, was placed on "government kill lists." The groups are bringing the suit on his behalf through his father Nasser al-Awlaki, claiming targeted killings in such instances constitute a process of illegal extrajudicial killings because "outside of armed conflict, both the Constitution and international law prohibit targeted killing except as a last resort to protect against concrete, specific, and imminent threats of death or serious physical injury." They claim that the "kill lists" violate both Fourth Amendment protection from illegal search and seizure and the Fifth Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounders] right to not be deprived of life without due process and due process notice requirements because of the secretive nature of the process. They seek a judicial order determining that such judicial killings clearly violate the Constitution and an order requiring the government to "disclose the criteria that are used in determining whether the government will carry out the targeted killing of a U.S. citizen."
Earlier this month, the ACLU and the CCR obtained a specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) license that enables them to represent Anwar al-Awlaki, but announced they are still pursuing a legal challenge [JURIST reports] to the licensing scheme. The Obama administration has defended [JURIST report] its use of targeted killings, specifically those made by unmanned predator drone strikes [JURIST news archive]. State Department Legal Adviser [official website] Harold Koh [academic profile] has said the drones "comply with all applicable law" because they target only military targets and enable minimal damage to civilians and civilian structures. Last October, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston [official website] noted that the use of unmanned drones by the US to carry out attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan may be illegal [JURIST report]. Alston said, "[t]he onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions, are not in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons." Alston criticized the US policy in a report to the UN General Assembly's human rights committee that was presented as part of a larger demand that no state be free from accountability.