State secrets privilege invoked in case of cleric
The filing could kill a lawsuit on behalf of a U.S.-born radical said to be living in Yemen.
washington — The Obama administration on Saturday invoked the state secrets privilege, which could kill a lawsuit on behalf of U.S.-born cleric Anwar Awlaki, a terrorism suspect said to be a target for assassination under a U.S. government program.
In a court filing, the Justice Department said that the issues in the case are for the executive branch of government to decide rather than the courts.
The department also said the case entails information that is protected by the military and state secrets privilege.
The courts have sufficient grounds to throw out the lawsuit without resorting to use of the state secrets privilege, the Justice Department said in its filing.
“The idea that courts should have no role whatsoever in determining the criteria by which the executive branch can kill its own citizens is unacceptable in a democracy,” the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement. “In matters of life and death, no executive should have a blank check.”
Awlaki’s father, through those two groups, filed the case in federal court in Washington.
The father has demanded that the government disclose a wide variety of classified information that could harm U.S. national security, Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.
“It strains credulity to argue that our laws require the government to disclose to an active, operational terrorist any information about how, when and where we fight terrorism,” Miller said.
The government considers Awlaki to be the most notorious English-speaking advocate of terrorism directed at the United States.
E-mails link Awlaki to the Army psychiatrist accused of the killings at Ft. Hood, Texas, last year. Awlaki, believed to be living in Yemen, has taken on an increasingly operational role in an Al Qaeda-linked group in that region, the Justice Department filing said, including preparing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in his attempt to detonate an explosive device aboard a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.
The lawsuit filed on the cleric’s behalf seeks to have a court declare that the U.S. Constitution and international law bar the government from carrying out targeted killings. It also aims to block the targeted killing of Awlaki and to force the government to disclose the standards for determining whether U.S. citizens can be targeted for death.
What Awlaki’s father is seeking would be “unprecedented, improper and extraordinarily dangerous,” said the Justice Department filing, which neither confirmed nor denied the existence of an assassination program.
The lawsuit would necessarily and improperly inject the courts into decisions of the president and his advisors about how to protect the country from the threat of armed attacks, including imminent threats, posed by a foreign organization against which the political branches have authorized the use of necessary and appropriate force, said the Justice Department filing.
ANWAR AWLAKIMuhammad ud-Deen
He is thought to be an assassination target under a U.S. program.