Families of US victims sue over drone strike on Yemen


RELATIVES OF three American citizens who were killed last autumn by US drone attacks in Yemen have filed a lawsuit against Central Intelligence Agency and military officials, in the first constitutional challenge to the Obama administration’s widespread use of such weapons to assassinate presumed enemies.

The lawsuit was filed by Nasser al-Awlaki, the father of the militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and grandfather of Abdulrahman al- Awlaki (16) and Sarah Khan, the mother of Samir Khan, with assistance from the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

It demands unspecified damages for wrongful death from secretary of defence Leon Panetta, CIA director David Petraeus, navy admiral William McRaven and army lieutenant general Joseph Votel.

Maj Nidal Hassan, the army psychiatrist who killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009, had exchanged emails with Sheikh Anwar.

Umar Abdul-Mutallab, who tried to bring down an airliner bound for Detroit with explosives concealed in his underwear the following month, had spent three days with Awlaki in Yemen. Faisal Shazad, who botched an attempted car-bombing at Times Square in May 2010, said he was “inspired” by Awlaki’s online sermons.

Anwar al-Awlaki was killed while driving in a car with Samir Khan, the editor of al-Qaeda’s English language magazine Inspire, on September 30th, 2011.

The militant cleric was born in New Mexico while Khan was a naturalised US citizen, born in Saudi Arabia.

Two weeks later, another drone attack killed Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman, who was born in Colorado, and at least six other people as they dined at an outdoor restaurant.

US officials said at the time that an Egyptian called Ibrahim al-Banna – not Abdulrahman – was the target of that attack.

“There is something terribly wrong when a 16-year-old American boy can be killed by his own government without any accountability or explanation,” Pardiss Kebriaei, a lawyer at the constitutional rights centre, said in a conference call with reporters.

The ACLU said the killings violate US and international law.

“Outside of armed conflict, both the constitution and international law prohibit killing without due process, except as a last resort to avert a concrete, specific and imminent threat of death or serious injury,” the group said. It added that lethal force may be used “only against individuals who are directly participating in hostilities against the US”.

ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer noted that “10 years ago, extrajudicial killing by the US was exceptional. Now it’s routine.”

The Obama administration has withheld comment on the lawsuit, but argued in favour of what it calls “targeted killing” earlier this year.

Jeh Johnson, the top lawyer for the Pentagon, said the drone strikes were part of a “long-standing and long-legal practice” going back to a US attack on an aircraft carrying Japanese navy commanders in 1943.

Using language reminiscent of George W Bush’s “war on terror”, attorney general Eric Holder said in a speech in March: “ ‘Due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security.

“The constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.”