A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Tuesday dismissed [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging the Obama administration's ability to conduct "targeted killings" in the case of radical Muslim cleric and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Judge John Bates found that the court lacked jurisdiction over the case, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy websites] on behalf of Awlaki's father, dismissing it on procedural grounds and noting that important questions remain:
But "[a] court without jurisdiction is a court without power, no matter how appealing the case for exceptions may be," and hence it is these threshold obstacles to reaching the merits of plaintiff's constitutional and statutory challenges that must be the initial focus of this Court's attention. 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.Bates found that Awlaki's father lacked standing and that the case presented a non-justiciable political question. The ACLU criticized the ruling [press release], saying that if it is correct, "the government has unreviewable authority to carry out the targeted killing of any American, anywhere, whom the president deems to be a threat to the nation."
Bates heard arguments [JURIST report] in the case last month. The arguments took place on the same day Awlaki called for jihadist attacks on US citizens in a video posted on extremist websites. Awlaki, a suspected member of al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], is believed to be linked to Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooting suspect, as well as the Christmas Day airplane bombing attempt [JURIST news archive]. Earlier in November, Yemeni prosecutors charged [JURIST report] Awlaki with incitement to kill foreigners. Awlaki is believed to be hiding in Yemen and was charged in absentia. US officials have labeled Awlaki as a terrorist and have placed him on a list to be captured or killed. The Yemeni government has sent forces on a counter-terrorism operation into the Province of Shabwa, where it is believed that Awlaki is hiding. In August, the ACLU and the CCR obtained a specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) license that enables them to represent Awlaki, but announced they were 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].