With help from who else? The ACLU.
The families of three U.S. citizens killed in drone strikes in Yemen last year, including militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, filed a lawsuit Wednesday that accuses top CIA and U.S. military officials of violating the constitutional rights of those killed.
The lawsuit, which was prepared in part by the American Civil Liberties Union, represents the most direct legal challenge yet to the Obama administration’s decision to kill U.S. citizens in counter-terrorism operations without open due process measures or scrutiny from courts.
“These killings rely on vague legal standards, a closed executive process, and evidence never presented to the courts,” the suit alleges.
The suit stems from two drone strikes that took place over a six-week stretch last fall. The first, in September, killed Awlaki as well as alleged al-Qaeda propagandist Samir Khan. The second strike, in October, killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son. All three were born in the United States.
Jameel Jaffer, deputy director of the ACLU, said the suit seeks compensation for the families, but is primarily aimed at forcing the Obama administration to disclose details about decisions that were made in secret.
“It’s an effort to get accountability,” Jaffer said. The administration has argued that requiring a court order in advance of strikes would cause delays and make the country more vulnerable to terrorist attack. Jaffer said the ACLU is “asking the government now, after the fact, to explain to a court why it did what it did.”
The defendants named in the suit include Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and CIA Director David H. Petraeus, as well as two of the top officers in the U.S. military special operations ranks: U.S. Navy Adm. William H. McRaven and U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Votel.