The American Civil Liberties Union said the U.S. Treasury Department gave it permission to sue the government over an alleged policy of seeking to kill U.S. citizens abroad who are terrorism suspects.
The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights said they were retained to bring the suit by the father of U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki, of Yemen, whom they say has been “targeted for death” without being charged or convicted. Al-Awlaki has been identified by the U.S. as a leader of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The ACLU and the center sued the department and its Office of Foreign Assets Control on Aug. 2, claiming they violate the constitution by requiring, in some cases, a permit for lawyers to represent terrorism suspects.
“The license issued by OFAC today will allow us to pursue our litigation relating to the government’s asserted authority to engage in targeted killings of American citizens without due process,” the groups said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the Treasury, Marti Adams, declined to confirm the groups had been given authorization to represent al-Awlaki, saying the department doesn’t comment on specific licenses.
The Justice Department, citing a Treasury report in a separate case today, said al-Awlaki, is “committed to carrying out deadly attacks on Americans and others worldwide” as part of his role in the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group.
Al-Awlaki, is identified on an OFAC list of “specially designated nationals” as a 39-year-old native of Las Cruces, New Mexico, with dual citizenships, in the U.S. and Yemen.
An Islamic cleric, al-Awlaki is said by the U.S. to have ties to recent al-Qaeda attacks on American targets. He would be tried in Yemen if captured because the nation’s constitution forbids extradition of its citizens, said Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi in an interview with Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram.
In a video posted on Islamist websites on May 23, al-Awlaki praised Nidal Hassan, the U.S. Army major charged in the shooting deaths of 13 fellow soldiers.
Faisal Shahzad, convicted of an attempted car bombing on May 1 in New York’s Times Square, also had contact with al-Awlaki, ABC News reported on May 6. Al-Awlaki provided spiritual guidance to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian charged with trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on its approach to Detroit, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant websites.
Citing reports published in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, the ACLU and the center allege in their complaint that the cleric is on a CIA target list. The government already tried to kill him using a drone aircraft, the lawsuit against Treasury claims.
In addition to their contemplated al-Awlaki lawsuit, the New York-based organizations said they’ll continue to press their case against the Treasury Department’s licensing regime.
OFAC’s director, Adam Szubin, said in a statement yesterday he was willing to discuss the licensing issue with the groups.
“The Treasury Department has long had in place a general license that broadly authorizes the provision of pro bono legal services to or on behalf of designated persons such as Anwar al Awlaki,” he said.
The case is American Civil Liberties Union v. Geithner, 10v1303, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.