License to Kill

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Yesterday, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) that challenged the government's asserted authority to carry out “targeted killings” of U.S. citizens located far from any armed conflict zone.  The suit was filed on behalf of Anwar Al-Aulaqi, an American born Muslim cleric that the United States accuses of "inspiring" terrorism.  Al-Aulaqi is the first American citizen to be approved for targeted killing by the CIA.

From Hina Shamsi, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project via the ACLU Blog of Rights:

"The ramifications of the court's decision are breathtaking.

A central premise of the case is that in our constitutional system of checks and balances, courts have a critical oversight role to play when the executive branch claims the authority — as both the Bush and Obama administrations have done — to kill people far from any battlefield, based on secret criteria. In rejecting that premise, the court has effectively granted the president the unreviewable authority to order the targeted killing of any American, anywhere, based on a unilateral determination that the person is a threat. No president should have that power. But the court's decision today would grant that authority in all future cases, to all future presidents. (And with America's example to follow, will other countries be far behind?)

While the president's claims of unilateral authority to conduct targeted killing are extraordinary, the relief we sought is not. We did not ask the court to rule that targeted killings are per se illegal, nor did we ask the judge to second-guess battlefield decisions. We acknowledged that there are exceptional circumstances — as a last resort, when a threat is imminent and there is no reasonable alternative — in which the government can legally use lethal force without prior judicial process. But because the government has turned these exceptional circumstances into policy with its targeted killing program, we asked the court to order that outside the context of armed conflict, the government can carry out the targeted killing of an American citizen only as a last resort to address an imminent threat to life or physical safety."

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