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Correction to This Article
This article misstated the first name of the federal judge considering the lawsuit over the United States' targeting of Anwar al-Aulaqi. The judge is U.S. District Judge John Bates, not Robert Bates.

Obama invokes 'state secrets' claim to dismiss suit against targeting of U.S. citizen al-Aulaqi

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By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 25, 2010; 1:49 AM

The Obama administration urged a federal judge early Saturday to dismiss a lawsuit over its targeting of a U.S. citizen for killing overseas, saying that the case would reveal state secrets.

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The U.S.-born citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi, is a cleric now believed to be in Yemen. Federal authorities allege that he is leading a branch of al-Qaeda there.

Government lawyers called the state-secrets argument a last resort to toss out the case, and it seems likely to revive a debate over the reach of a president's powers in the global war against al-Qaeda.

Civil liberties groups sued the U.S. government on behalf of Aulaqi's father, arguing that the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command's placement of Aulaqi on a capture-or-kill list of suspected terrorists - outside a war zone and absent an imminent threat - amounted to an extrajudicial execution order against a U.S. citizen. They asked a U.S. district court in Washington to block the targeting.

In response, Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that the groups are asking "a court to take the unprecedented step of intervening in an ongoing military action to direct the President how to manage that action - all on behalf of a leader of a foreign terrorist organization."

Miller added, "If al-Aulaqi wishes to access our legal system, he should surrender to American authorities and return to the United States, where he will be held accountable for his actions."

In a statement, lawyers for Nasser al-Aulaqi condemned the government's request to dismiss the case without debating its merits, saying that judicial review of the pursuit of targets far from the battlefield of Afghanistan is vital.

"The idea that courts should have no role whatsoever in determining the criteria by which the executive branch can kill its own citizens is unacceptable in a democracy," the American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Constitutional Rights said.

"In matters of life and death, no executive should have a blank check," they said.

The government filed its brief to U.S. District Judge Robert Bates just after a midnight Friday deadline, blaming technical problems, and the late-night maneuvering underscored the political and diplomatic stakes for President Obama. His administration announced last year that it would set a higher bar when hiding details of controversial national security policies.

Justice Department officials said they invoked the controversial legal argument reluctantly, mindful that domestic and international critics attacked former president George W. Bush for waging the fight against terrorism with excessive secrecy and unchecked claims of executive power.


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