Al-Aulaqi Drone Attack Deaths Attract Lawsuit
The targeted killing of American citizens in Yemen by the US has been perceived to
be out-of-ordinary in spite of their terrorist activities.
Lawsuits involving the Federal government’s military actions are tricky ones, since
there are many provisions that could justify their actions, not least of which is
national security. The security of America and its citizens could, in some cases,
support actions which would otherwise be condemnable. But if US citizens are on the
receiving end of fatal military strikes, it does raise eyebrows even if those killed may
have been terrorists.
American Terrorist Suspects Killed by US Attacks
Three US citizens in Yemen were killed by America’s drone attacks in 2011. They
were terrorist suspects Anwar Al-Aulaqi, 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi and
Samir Khan. But their families have been told that they cannot sue the American
government for that. This ruling has been recently made by a Washington federal
judge and was in response to a complaint that was filed by Anwar Al-Aulaqi’s father
and Samir Khan’s mother in 2012.
No Provision for Lawsuit to Stand
In the complaint they accused the US government’s drone strikes of being in
violation of the Fourth as well as Fifth Amendments rights which Americans are
eligible for. They were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation
and Center for Constitutional Rights lawyers.
However, Rosemary Collyer, US District Judge, claimed that there just wasn’t any
remedy available under American law for the claims in the complaint to stand. There
were special circumstances in these incidents, she said, which deal with military and
executive planning and action. The defendants were to be trusted to act according to
the spirit of the US Constitution in cases where they target US citizens abroad, since
the actions are carried out under the President’s direction as well as with consensus
from the Congress. As a result, the judge ruled that the defendants could not be
charged with monetary damages as being personally responsible for such incidents in
the event of a war. The lawsuit was dismissed on these grounds.
Department of Justice’s Position not Acceptable
Collyer, though, did not accept the position of the US Department of Justice (DOJ)
that the case could not come under review at all thanks to the principle of political
question. This is a question that keeps courts from carrying out reviews of some
decisions that are left exclusively to the legislative or executive branches of the
federal government. The decision to attack the American terrorists was, the DOJ
argued, a national security one. This argument was rejected by Collyer.
Collyer had, in the July 2013 hearing, expressed dissatisfaction on this position held
by the government. Such an understanding would prevent courts from ever being
able to review decisions involving targeting and killing of Americans abroad. Collyer
differentiated the Al-Aulaqi killings from the other lawsuits which had been dismissed
under the doctrine of political question, since these drone attacks involved US
citizens. She said that the powers of the Congress and executive for ensuring
national security are not a license for depriving US citizens of their lives without due
process or judicial review.
Federal Government Slack in Presenting Vital Statements
Collyer also criticized the federal government for not turning over classified
statements as demanded by her which would have supported the government’s
position. Failure to submit these statements had made the case quite difficult, the
judge said. She also revealed that it was the court’s piecing together of some
conspicuous facts from some records that led it to dismiss the lawsuit. If these vital
bits of data had not been found the court would have had to deny the dismissal, the
judge said. The defendants did not care to present the requested evidence
supporting their assertion of special circumstances in this suit.
Attorneys involved in lawsuits such as these would need as much help as they can in
collecting evidence, examining documents often involving classified information, and
a thorough knowledge of Federal norms and law. Dealing with statements and
depositions and other written Legal documents or transcribed documents from
companies and governmental organizations will need a lot of manpower. It can
always be very involved when they have to manage lawsuits that are similar.
Considering the trend more lawsuits like this one can be expected.