Judge dismisses case against Obama administration officials over drone strikes on US citizens

The Associated Press

FILE - In this image taken from video and released by SITE Intelligence Group on Monday, Nov. 8, 2010, Anwar al-Awlaki speaks in a video message posted on radical websites. On Friday, April 4, 2014, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer dismissed a lawsuit against Obama administration officials for the 2011 drone-strike killings of three U.S. citizens in Yemen, including U.S.-born al-Qaida leader al-Awlaki. Collyer said the case raises serious constitutional issues and is not easy to answer, but that "on these facts and under this circuit's precedent," the court will grant the Obama administration's request. (AP Photo/SITE Intelligence Group, File) NO SALES, MANDATORY CREDIT

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Anwar al-Awlaki had been linked to the planning and execution of several attacks targeting U.S. and Western interests, including a 2009 attempt on Christmas Day on a Detroit-bound airliner and a 2010 plot against cargo planes.

"The fact is that Anwar al-Awlaki was an active and exceedingly dangerous enemy of the United States, irrespective of his distance, location, and citizenship," said Collyer. "As evidenced by his participation in the Christmas Day attack, Anwar al-Awlaki was able to persuade, direct, and wage war against the United States from his location in Yemen, without being present on an official battlefield or in a hot war zone."

She said that the U.S. government moved against al-Awlaki as authorized by the defendants and she said the officials acted in accordance with the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which was enacted by Congress after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Also impacting the outcome was the type of lawsuit, commonly known as a Bivens action, which seeks to hold liable individual officials as opposed to being a legal action against an entity. Bevens actions have a high legal hurdle to meet in order to survive.

"Allowing plaintiffs to bring a Bivens action against defendants would hinder their ability in the future to act decisively and without hesitation in defense of U.S. interests," Collyer said.

"Although it gave this court pause, a plaintiff's U.S. citizenship has not affected the analysis of Bivens special factors by the circuit courts," she added.

"The Supreme Court has never suggested that citizenship matters to a claim under Bivens," said Collyer's opinion, quoting from a federal appeals court case.

The Obama administration argued that the lawsuit should be thrown out based on the political question doctrine, which excludes from judicial review controversies revolving around policy choices to be resolved by Congress or the executive branch.

Collyer disagreed, saying that the powers granted to the executive and Congress to wage war and provide for national security does not give them carte blanche to deprive a U.S. citizen of his life without due process and without any judicial review.

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