In a court filing this week, Justice Department lawyers claimed that the Obama administration’s drone strikes that have admittedly killed four American citizens are constitutional in part simply because Eric Holder and Barack Obama said so.
While this might seem absurd to the point that it seems like it should be published in the Onion, it is quite unfortunately true.
“The Attorney General’s statement last month that the use of remotely piloted aircraft and the targeting of Anwar Al-Aulaqi were subject to ‘exceptionally rigorous interagency legal review’ and determined to be lawful — along with the President’s statement that those actions were legal — only support the conclusion that those actions were lawful, and certainly were not clearly established to be unconstitutional in 2011,” stated a court filing signed by Paul Warner, a trial lawyer in the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, according to Ryan J. Reilly of the Huffington Post.
This came in response to a lawsuit, al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, filed by both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of the estates of three of the American citizens who have been killed in U.S. drone strikes.
The lawsuit alleges that the U.S. government’s killing of Anwar al-Awlaki (also spelled Aulaqi), his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan was unconstitutional because they were not given the due process demanded by the Constitution.
Of course, in the past Attorney General Eric Holder has claimed that the Obama administration’s secret reviews of classified evidence count as due process and they claim that the letter from Holder to members of Congress and Obama’s speech on national security didn’t change their legal position.
However, that letter and the speech were the first time that the Obama administration ever formally acknowledged that they killed an American citizen.
The government claims that they deserve qualified immunity because the plaintiffs “failed to allege the violation of any clearly established constitutional rights.”
The government claims that the statements from Obama and Holder are “holly consistent with Defendants’ showing that Anwar Al-Aulaqi’s due process rights were not violated.”
When the legal basis for the targeted killings was challenged in court previously, a federal judge ruled that the Obama administration could simply claim they had a legal basis while never explaining it.
Furthermore, in the Justice Department’s leaked whitepaper on the targeted killing of Americans, anything resembling due process was glaringly absent.
Most astounding of all is that the Obama administration argued in their filing that the judicial branch “is ill-suited” to evaluate the many “military, intelligence, and foreign policy considerations” behind the choice to kill the American citizens.
The government added that because 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Khan were not specifically targeted by the government, as is their claim, the plaintiffs cannot claim that they were subjected to an unconstitutional process.
The fact that the government is now claiming that the judicial branch simply can’t evaluate the killing of Americans shouldn’t be all that surprising given the aforementioned federal judge’s decision. After all, that judge didn’t even read the legal memo supposedly outlining the government’s legal basis for killing Americans.
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