The families of three United States citizens, who were not indicted, charged or prosecuted for committing crimes but were killed in drone strikes by the US government, lost in court when a judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights.
“These deaths happened in 2011,” according to lead CCR staff attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, who argued the case. “There’s a strike on September 30, 2011, that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan and then two weeks later, October 14, 2011, a second strike that killed Abdulrahman [al-Awlaki].”
“It took [President Barack Obama's] administration two years to formally publicly acknowledge it was responsible for those deaths. So that’s really all it has done. Everything else has been sort of to indict Anwar al-Awlaki publicly in a series of speeches, but there is very little information still.”
As far as the deaths of Abdulrahman and Khan, the Obama administration has given no information about the circumstances of these strikes except to claim they were “not specifically targeted.” While the ACLU and CCR argued these were illegal deaths in violation of the constitution, additionally, the families wanted to end the secrecy preventing them from knowing the truth.
“It is just basic to know why your sons and grandson were killed by their own government and that’s all they’re really asking for in this case,” Kebriaei stated.
Rania Khalek of the “Dispatches from the Underclass” blog and I interviewed Pardiss Kebriaei, a staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, on the Awlaki decision for this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast. She outlines many of the troubling aspects of the judge’s decision in the interview.
During the discussion portion of the show, we talk about FBI agents on JSOC raids in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Albuquerque police department, “Cuban Twitter” and President Barack Obama as this country’s “deporter-in-chief.”
Some additional notes on the interview:
Kebriaei declares, “They’re entitled to constitutional rights and the government should have been held to account by the district court judge.”
The judge refused to get involved because it involved national security or required her to question military decision-making.
“This is the refrain, particularly in the DC courts” in the past 10 years, she explains. “Cases brought before for detention, for torture and now for killing, and the common theme in all of these cases has often been because it involves national security, because it is the military doing things, because there is classified information at issue, we can’t delve into these claims despite the claims that are being brought.”
The judge did reject the “government’s broadest argument, which was that the court should have no role.” The government “made an argument based on political question doctrine, which is basically that the separation of powers and the constitution require matters like this to be handled by the political branches alone and the courts have no business getting involved. And she rejected that argument.”
“She started out saying courts do have a role when the fundamental rights of US citizens are at issue, and we’re talking about due process rights here. So she started out saying I have a role and she distinguished this case from precedent that had been brought before, existing precedents in the DC circuit,” Kebriaei recounts.
“What she said about Samir Khan and Abdulrahman was that there was no constitutional violation. We brought Fourth Amendment and Fifth Amendment claims on behalf of all three.” And she decided there was “no violation because their deaths were unintended.”
It was “plausible that United States officials we were suing violated the due process rights of this person when they killed [Anwar] with a drone with premeditation without ever having charged him with a crime,” she adds. “But [the judge] then ultimately went on to say I can’t actually decide that question. I can’t decide if there is a violation and, if there were a violation, I wouldn’t be able to remedy that violation.”
Rather troubling was how casually she seemed to determine that Abdulrahman and Samir Khan were not targeted intentionally by the government.
“All the United States has said about Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, as well as a third US citizen, Jude Kenan Mohammad, which we found out about just last year was that they weren’t ‘specifically targeted.’ That to me raises more questions than answers.”
The “premise of her decision was these were accidental deaths. They were bystander deaths and that therefore there was no violation because the government did not actually intend to kill them,” according to Kebriaei.