Civil Liberties Groups Get License To Sue Government Over Placing U.S. Citizen On Assassination List

I almost can't believe I'm writing this, but yesterday the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights received a license that allows them to sue the government -- for ordering the assassination of a U.S. citizen, away from the field of combat, without due process of any kind:

“The license issued by OFAC today will allow us to pursue our litigation relating to the government’s asserted authority to engage in targeted killings of American civilians without due process. While we appreciate OFAC’s quick response to our lawsuit, we continue to believe that OFAC’s regulations are unconstitutional because they require lawyers who are providing uncompensated legal representation to seek the government’s permission before challenging the constitutionality of the government’s conduct. Notably, OFAC has indicated that the license issued to us today can be revoked at any time. We will pursue our claim that OFAC’s attorney-licensing regulations are unconstitutional and should be invalidated.”

Glenn Greenwald wrote about this back in January, and specifically about Anwar al-Aulaqi, the U.S. citizen targeted by this order:

Obviously, if U.S. forces are fighting on an actual battlefield, then they (like everyone else) have the right to kill combatants actively fighting against them, including American citizens. That's just the essence of war. That's why it's permissible to kill a combatant engaged on a real battlefield in a war zone but not, say, torture them once they're captured and helplessly detained.

But combat is not what we're talking about here. The people on this "hit list" are likely to be killed while at home, sleeping in their bed, driving in a car with friends or family, or engaged in a whole array of other activities. More critically still, the Obama administration -- like the Bush administration before it -- defines the "battlefield" as the entire world.

So the President claims the power to order U.S. citizens killed anywhere in the world, while engaged even in the most benign activities carried out far away from any actual battlefield, based solely on his say-so and with no judicial oversight or other checks. That's quite a power for an American President to claim for himself.

As we well know from the last eight years, the authoritarians among us in both parties will, by definition, reflexively justify this conduct by insisting that the assassination targets are Terrorists and therefore deserve death. What they actually mean, however, is that the U.S. Government has accused them of being Terrorists, which (except in the mind of an authoritarian) is not the same thing as being a Terrorist. Numerous Guantanamo detainees accused by the U.S. Government of being Terrorists have turned out to be completely innocent, and the vast majority of federal judges who provided habeas review to detainees have found an almost complete lack of evidence to justify the accusations against them, and thus ordered them released. That includes scores of detainees held while the U.S. Government insisted that only the "Worst of the Worst" remained at the camp.

No evidence should be required for rational people to avoid assuming that Government accusations are inherently true, but for those do need it, there is a mountain of evidence proving that. And in this case, Anwar Aulaqi -- who, despite his name and religion, is every bit as much of an American citizen as Scott Brown and his daughters are -- has a family who vigorously denies that he is a Terrorist and is "pleading" with the U.S. Government not to murder their American son:

His anguish apparent, the father of Anwar al-Awlaki told CNN that his son is not a member of al Qaeda and is not hiding out with terrorists in southern Yemen."I am now afraid of what they will do with my son, he's not Osama Bin Laden, they want to make something out of him that he's not," said Dr. Nasser al-Awlaki, the father of American-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. . . ."I will do my best to convince my son to do this (surrender), to come back but they are not giving me time, they want to kill my son.

How can the American government kill one of their own citizens? This is a legal issue that needs to be answered," he said."If they give me time I can have some contact with my son but the problem is they are not giving me time," he said.

Who knows what the truth is here? That's why we have what are called "trials" -- or at least some process -- before we assume that government accusations are true and then mete out punishment accordingly. As Marcy Wheeler notes, the U.S. Government has not only repeatedly made false accusations of Terrorism against foreign nationals in the past, but against U.S. citizens as well. She observes: "I guess the tenuousness of those ties don’t really matter, when the President can dial up the assassination of an American citizen."

This isn't a case of bleeding heart liberals being conned; everyone's aware that Anwar Al-Awlaki is a pretty dangerous individual who calls for jihad against Americans. But he's also a U.S. citizen, and deserves at least as much from the legal process as someone who holds up a bank.

That's what's supposed to make us different.

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