Judge Rosemary M. Collyer of the United States District Court challenged the Obama administration’s claim that courts have no power over targeted drone killings of American citizens overseas last week during a hearing where the government requested to dismiss a lawsuit filed by relatives of three Americans killed in two drone strikes in Yemen.
On Friday Judge Collyer asked Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brain Hauck, “Are you saying that a US citizen targeted by the United States in a foreign country has no constitutional rights?”
She continued, “How broadly are you asserting the right of the United States to target an American citizen? Where is the limit to this?”
Collyer answered her own question by saying, “The limit is the courthouse door.”
The NY Times Reports:
Mr. Hauck acknowledged that Americans targeted overseas do have rights, but he said they could not be enforced in court either before or after the Americans were killed. Judges, he suggested, have neither the expertise nor the tools necessary to assess the danger posed by terrorists, the feasibility of capturing them or when and how they should be killed.
“Courts don’t have the apparatus to analyze” such issues, so they must be left to the executive branch, with oversight by Congress, Mr. Hauck said. But he argued, as Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has in the past, that there are multiple “checks” inside the executive branch to make sure such killings are legally justified.
In other words the executive branch is a check on itself.
Those checks are what have lead to the killing of three US citizens who were never justly convicted of any crime.
On September 30, 2011, U.S. strikes killed Anwar al-Awlaki, along with Samir Khan and three others. Two weeks later, the U.S. launched another drone strike at an open-air restaurant in Yemen, killing Anwar al-Awlaki’s son, Abdulrahman, and six other civilian bystanders, including another teenager. This action occurred without any due process.
Hauck’s response to Judge Collyer reinforces the coffin nails on the complete destruction of the moral jurisprudence that once guaranteed safety to the American people. Solely off vague accusations and association will the executive branch take action to end American lives abroad.
The three men were announced dead in May by Attorney General Eric Holder who only specified that senior al-Awlaki was specifically targeted in the attacks.
Al-Awlaki repeatedly made clear his intent to attack US persons and his hope that these attacks would take American lives … Based on this information, high-level US government officials appropriately concluded that al-Awlaki posed a continuing and imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.
The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights are pursuing the lawsuit on behalf of the relatives.
ACLU attorney Hina Shamsi who appeared at the hearing on Friday said:
The Constitution does not allow government officials to kill Americans based on vague and shifting legal criteria and evidence never presented to a court. The government has argued that the court should step aside when the executive branch conducts extrajudicial killings of American citizens abroad, but the Supreme Court has ruled that the judiciary has an essential role to play in protecting civil liberties even in the context of actual military conflict. The Constitution’s protections are never more crucial than when the government seeks to deprive people of their lives.
The executive branch putting itself over the courts and giving itself free rein to assassinate American citizens abroad sets a dangerous precedent that holds a position of criminality equal to any act of terrorism.
In February, a Justice department white paper leaked; it contained language implying that the government does not need “clear evidence” connecting a person to a plot against the U.S. in order to use a drone strike.
This leak lead to Senator Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster that asked the Obama administration whether or not drone strikes could be carried out on US soil.
The filibuster resulted in a response from Eric Holder.
Although two of the three victims of the deadly drone strikes were reportedly sympathetic to the so-called enemy of the United States, al-Qaeda, does this allow the executive branch to become the sole decision maker between life and death? To make that decision without any court approval? The Constitution would disagree. Those who wrote the founding documents of this country would gaze in awe at the lack of restraint held down on the powers of the executive.