Survivors of three Americans killed by targeted drone attacks in Yemen last year sued top-ranking members of the United States government, alleging Wednesday they illegally killed the three, including a 16-year-old boy, in violation of international human rights law and the U.S. Constitution.
“The government has killed three Americans. It should account for its actions. This case gives us an opportunity to do that,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a press call.
The suit, (.pdf) being litigated by the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights, seeks unspecified damages and highlights the government’s so-called unmanned drone “targeted killing” program that the ACLU and the center maintain have killed thousands, including hundreds of innocent bystanders overseas.
The suit, the first of its kind, alleges the United States was not engaged in an armed conflict with or within Yemen, prohibiting the use of lethal force unless “at the time it is applied, lethal force is a last resort to protect against a concrete, specific, and imminent threat of death or serious physical injury.” The case directly challenges the government’s decision to kill Americans without judicial scrutiny.
At bottom, Jaffer said, “the question is whether the government is justified in killing without charging them or trying them for anything.”
The suit is brought on behalf of cleric Anwar Al-Aulaqi, who the Obama administration claimed was a recruiter and planner for al-Qaida, who was known for his blog, Facebook page and YouTube videos. The U.S. authorities claim he had contacts with the 9/11 hijackers, the underwear bomber and others. He was killed Sept. 30 last year. Also killed was Samir Khan, the editor of the English magazine Inspire, which allegedly was published by Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Two weeks later, the cleric’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, was killed in a separate Yemen attack.
The defendants include Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus, U.S. Navy Adm. William H. McRaven and U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Votel.
Citing U.S. officials, the Washington Post has reported that the son and Khan were not intended targets.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond for comment. The administration refuses to release the Justice Department memo that legally justifies targeting Americans, and according to the New York Times, President Obama approves or denies who gets added to the “kill list.”
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