Two civil rights groups today sued the US government, seeking the legal authority to challenge the Obama administration's targeting of a radical cleric in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki -- who may now be America's most wanted terrorist.
The government says al-Awlaki has become one of the dominant recruiters of Americans for violent attacks on the homeland. He's said to have communicated with Major Nidal Hasan before last year's shootings at Ft. Hood and with Faisal Shahzad, who planted a car bomb in Times Square earlier this year. In addition, the FBI says he played a key role in the Christmas Day airline bomb plot. Intelligence sources say he has been the target of several unmanned drone attacks.
Now, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights say they've been asked by al-Awlaki's father to challenge the government's targeting of al-Awlaki, who is a U.S. citizen, born in New Mexico. The groups say the government has improperly "asserted authority to use lethal force against U.S. citizens located far from any battlefield without charge, trial, or judicial process of any kind."
In mid-July, al-Awlaki was formally placed on the global terrorist list, and federal law makes it a crime for any lawyer to represent someone on the list without getting a license from the government. The civil rights groups are suing over the government's refusal to grant them that permission.
"President Obama is claiming the power to act as judge, jury, and executioner while suspending any semblance of due process," said Vince Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights. His group and the ACLU claim that lethal force can be used, outside of armed conflict, only in response to an imminent threat of deadly attack.