WASHINGTON -- A lawsuit filed Wednesday contends that the U.S. violated the constitutional rights of Al Qaeda cleric Anwar Awlaki and two other U.S. citizens when it killed them with drone strikes in Yemen last year.
The lawsuit questions the legality of two drone strikes, one in September that killed Awlaki and Al Qaeda propagandist Samir Khan, and a second in October whose victims included Awlaki’s 16-year-old son.
All three were U.S. citizens, and the overarching theme of the lawsuit is that the attacks violated the Constitution’s guarantee against the deprivation of life without due process of law.
Lawyers for two activist groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed the case on behalf of relatives of the dead. The defendants are CIA Director David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Special Operations Commander Adm. William McRaven, and Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads the Joint Special Operations Command, known as JSOC.
The CIA and JSOC are cooperating in carrying out drone strikes in Yemen, U.S. officials have said.
The suit does not name President Obama, who is reported to have made the decision to target Awlaki.
“The Constitution does not permit a bureaucratized program under which Americans far from any battlefield are summarily killed by their own government on the basis of shifting legal standards and allegations never tested in court,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director.
The CIA and Pentagon had no comment on the lawsuit.
Among the lawsuit’s arguments is that the U.S. had ample chance to attempt to capture Anwar Awlaki because he had been under surveillance for some time -– as long as three weeks, according to "Kill or Capture," a new book by Newsweek reporter Daniel Klaidman that is cited in the complaint.