Judge: Obama’s drone use rationale ‘disconcerting’

This 2008 image taken from Fox News video shows Samir Khan in Charlotte, N.C.  U.S-born Samir Khan, who edited the slick Jihadi Internet magazine, and cleric Anwar al-Awlaki were killed Friday, Sept. 30, 2011 in an air strike on their convoy in Yemen by a joint CIA-U.S. military operation, according to counterterrorism officials. A federal judge said Friday, July 19, 2013, that she finds “disconcerting” the Obama administration’s position that courts have no role in a lawsuit over the 2011 drone-strike killings of three U.S. citizens in Yemen, including an al-Qaida cleric and Khan. (AP Photo/Fox News)

This 2008 image taken from Fox News video shows Samir Khan in Charlotte, N.C. U.S-born Samir Khan, who edited the slick Jihadi Internet magazine, and cleric Anwar al-Awlaki were killed Friday, Sept. 30, 2011 in an air strike on their convoy in Yemen by a joint CIA-U.S. military operation, according to counterterrorism officials. (AP Photo/Fox News)

A federal judge said Friday that she finds “disconcerting” the Obama administration’s position that courts have no role in a lawsuit over the 2011 drone-strike killings of three U.S. citizens in Yemen, including an al-Qaida cleric.

U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer made the comment at a hearing on a government motion to dismiss the case. The suit was filed by relatives of the three men killed in the drone strikes, charging that the attacks violated the Constitution. It names as defendants then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, then-CIA Director David Petraeus and two commanders in the military’s Special Operations forces, and seeks unspecified compensatory damages.

Collyer didn’t say which way she would rule on the motion but repeatedly expressed concerns over the government’s argument, saying she was “really troubled” by it.

U.S.-born al-Qaida leader Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, an al-Qaida propagandist, were killed in a drone strike in September 2011. Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was killed the following month. Al-Awlaki had been linked to the planning and execution of several attacks targeting U.S. and Western interests, including a 2009 attempt on the Detroit-bound airliner and a 2010 plot against cargo planes.

The government has argued that the matter is best left to Congress and the executive branch, not judges, and that courts have recognized that the defense of the nation should be left to those political branches.

Brian Hauck, a deputy assistant attorney general lawyer who argued the case for the government Friday, noted that President Barack Obama, in a speech in May to the National Defense University, said he didn’t think it was constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen without due process.

“Where was the due process in this case?” asked Collyer, an appointee of President George W. Bush.

Hauck said there were checks in place, including reviews done by the executive branch.

“No, no, no, no, no,” Collyer retorted. “The executive is not an effective check on the executive” when it comes to protecting constitutional rights.

Hauck said Congress is also briefed on drone attacks. He added that U.S. officials should be allowed to do their jobs without the threat of litigation hanging over their actions.

“You’re saying there is no courthouse door where this goes through,” Collyer said later. She repeatedly pressed Hauck to say what checks and balances the president faces, at one point saying in exasperation, “There’s a man who won’t be taken off message.”

When Hauck mentioned the constitutional structure as one such constraint, Collyer replied that the Constitution sets out three branches of government, including the judiciary — “the one that’s usually yelled at and not given any money.”

She added: “I consider us a nation of laws, and everybody from the president down to homeless people have to follow the law.”

Pardiss Kebriaei, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights — which is representing the relatives along with the American Civil Liberties Union — called the government’s arguments “not just wrong; they’re dangerous.” She said the government can kill a 16-year-old U.S. citizen (al-Awlaki’s son) without any explanation. Attorney General Eric Holder wrote in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy this year that the teen was not “specifically targeted” by the U.S.

The lawsuit was filed by Nasser al-Awlaki — Anwar’s father and the teen’s grandfather — and by Sarah Khan, Samir Khan’s mother. In a New York Times op-ed piece this week, Nasser al-Awlaki wrote that two years after his grandson’s death, the government still hasn’t explained why he was killed. He wrote that the boy was born in Denver and came to live with him when he was seven, and left home in 2011 in search of his father.

“The government has killed a 16-year-old American boy,” he wrote. “Shouldn’t it at least have to explain why?”

The high-profile case attracted a rare fully-packed courtroom. When Collyer walked into the room, she said, “Holy cow! This is a really serious matter, so I shouldn’t say holy cow, but holy cow!”

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7 Responses to "Judge: Obama’s drone use rationale ‘disconcerting’"

  1. Carl Nemo **==  July 20, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Judge Rosemary M. Collyer’s opinion is heartening. She’s a jurist after my Constitutional supporting heart and soul for sure.

    ***

    “She added: “I consider us a nation of laws, and everybody from the president down to homeless people have to follow the law.”” …extract from article

    ***

    Hopefully the ruling will be in line with her sentiments forcing it to no doubt head as far as the Supreme Court. Unfortunately SCOTUS has demonstrasted to be scoflaws in recent years relative to Constitutional friendly rulings.

    Interestingly Judge Collyer was a Bush administration appointee proving that not all jurists will support statist, rights robbing mattoids as the Bushistas demonstrated while in office with such dark policies continued under Obama’s regime.

    Carl Nemo **==

  2. SDRSr  July 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Hmmm, lets see. Person A, a US citizen, swears allegiance and fidelity to a terrorist organization. Then plans, conducts or leads terrorist attacks on US Citizens on US soil, becomes a leader of the terrorist organization, or publicly advocates the killing of innocent Americans and other innocent people of other nations.

    To me you swear allegiance and fidelity to another nation or organization or join that nation’s or organization’s efforts to attack Person A’s home nation, then Person A gave up any rights, privileges or courtesies due. Person A becomes a legal target.

    So Mr. President, thank you for expanding the sphere of experience of Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan,

    • Carl Nemo **==  July 20, 2013 at 6:19 pm

      Let’s just hope that you don’t ever have to witness police/government drones in your neighborhood taking out designates as ‘enemies of the state’ whatever that might be to future regimes SDRSr.

      The operation wasn’t sanitary in that they felt it ok to take out the sixteen year old son in addition to his father designate, but one month later, so it wasn’t simply a case of collateral damage, but the targeting of a minor too.

      Seemingly we have law breaking slobs managing these ops as well as ‘cowboys’ flying these drones who honed their skills via playing ‘first person shooter’ video games as youngsters. The action is just a condition of the violent video game fantasy world they grew up in. No one ever dies in the games, but now they get to snuff lives with a joystick while eating popcorn and chugging down soda pop. / : |

      *****

      “The government has argued that the matter is best left to Congress and the executive branch, not judges, and that courts have recognized that the defense of the nation should be left to those political branches.” …extract from article

      *****

      I genuinely fear for our nation when lethal, cockamamie ideas like these are postured for the defense of these unconstitutional programs.

      Any citizen who feels comfortable that their government knows what’s best for them, their leaders now above the law, deserves whatever comes to them as a function of their love affair with such corruption in both thought and deeds.

      Carl Nemo **==

  3. SDRsr  July 21, 2013 at 1:01 am

    Carl, you need to refresh your memory, the sixteen year old was in the car with an Al-Quaida target. In my experience a 16 year old can be just as deadly as a 40 year old. Now it was a shame the kid was in the car, but it begs the question what was he doing in the car with a known Al-Quaida member…

    Getting a little hyperbolic there on these FPS games and honing skills? Heres something for you to think on, the police and the military and others have been “honing their skills” with simulators years before the introduction of drones and FPS games. Studies have shown that certain skills learned in FPS games are useful and compatible with certain military skills and occupational specialties. I play video games,(FPS and MMORPG), but I was trained to kill years before they were even introduced – my training materials were movies, books, comics, John Wayne, Forrest Tucker, Alan Lad, Red Buttons, the U.S. Army, Cowboy Novels and such, and the games I played in the 50s and early 60s.

    I never said I was comfortable with the matter being left to the Executive Branch or to the Legislative Branch. I just said thanks for popping a terrorist leader and a terrorist propagandist. Both of which to my way of thinking were not US Citizens since they swore loyalty and Fidelity to a Terrorist Organization. You need to stop reading into what people write and just read what they did write.

    Besides, I do not remember much in the way of protestations when the drone programs were used by President G.W. Bush.

    Remember, these two (Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan) were part of the same organization that espouses the killing of Americans (men, women and children) and they have killed almost 3000 of us including 8 children under 16 years of age.

    The childrens names and ages:
    Christine Lee Hanson, 2, Groton, Mass.
    David Brandhorst, 3, Los Angeles, Calif.
    Juliana McCourt, 4, New London, Conn.
    Bernard Brown II, 11, Washington, D.C.
    Asia Cottom, 11, Washington, D.C.
    Rodney Dickens, 11, Washington, D.C.
    Dana Falkenberg, 3, University Park, Md.
    Zoe Falkenberg, 8, University Park, Md.

    • Purple-Stater  July 21, 2013 at 6:45 am

      “Now it was a shame the kid was in the car, but it begs the question what was he doing in the car with a known Al-Quaida member…”

      I guess we’ll never know, since the government BLEW HIM UP! No charges, no trial, just one more dead kid. It’s often been said that the basic philosophy of our legal system is Blackstone’s Ratio: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”. It’s rather disturbing how many people seem to feel that when it comes to “terrorism” that it’s perfectly fine for one hundred people to become “collateral damage” in order to call in a hellfire strike on one person who “might” be there.

  4. Keith  July 21, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Remember, these two (Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan) were part of the same organization that espouses the killing of Americans (men, women and children) and they have killed almost 3000 of us including 8 children under 16 years of age.

    …but how many thousands MORE innocent men, women and children have WE killed as “collateral damage” with those same drones?

    One list, compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism conservatively puts that number at nearly 3,500 in Pakistan ALONE since 2004, along with another 450+ in Yemen. Toss in the 100,000 (some say the number is significantly higher) so-called “non-combatants” we’ve also killed since we started that pumped-up fraud called the “War on Terror”, and I think you’ll catch my drift.

    The truth is that these so-called “terrorists” don’t hate the United States for what we ARE. They hate us for what we DO.

    As a result, I contend WE are the biggest “terrorists” in all this…NOT the Bedouins in tents we keep using as an excuse to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in other parts of the world.

    Indeed, one definition of terrorism states that it is: “The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”. I contend our own US Government fits ALL THREE aspects of that definition.

    That is, the US Government’s part in starting not one but TWO totally unneeded “wars of preemption” in Afghanistan and Iraq clearly fits the “violence” part. And our politician’s continued, “be very afraid” and “homeland security” dogma, easily fits the “intimidation” part.

    Finally, as all that “official” fear mongering now spewing from the mouths and pens of our politicians has far LESS to do with keeping all of us “safe”. Rather, it has far MORE to do with keeping the 800,000+ now involved in some form of “secret surveillance” in the USA (not to mention the hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars we continually throw at the thousands of US Defense contractors) now feeding from the public trough gainfully employed.

    It seems to me all of THAT blatant extortion fits the “political” part of the definition.

    So, in that sense, I contend that the biggest “terrorists” in all this are Barak Obama and his hundreds of thousands of minions in the federal bureaucracy who are now trying desperately to keep the facade of the “War on Terror” viable in the face of increasing evidence that it’s all nothing but a HUGE fraud.

    Indeed, more people die each year from simply FALLING OUT OF BED in the United States than died in the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11…and in all the years since.

    So, again, where’s the overwhelming “clear and present danger” to our nation that in any way justifies the MASSIVE killing of innocent civilians that we, ourselves, continually perpetrate on (and in) other sovereign nations?

  5. woody188  July 21, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Judge Collyer is certainly right. The Executive is not an effective check on the Executive. Nor is Congress. Just look at FISA to see how effective they are at stopping broad collection of our personal communications.

    Look at the torture prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Junior assured us only the worst of the worst were sent there. Some 8 years later they released more than half saying they were innocent.

    How many innocents have died at the hands of Obama’s drone program at the insistence of the Unitary Executive that they are the worst of the worst?

    History would seem to indicate at least half those assassinated were innocent. How long until it’s you and me facing down a drone on their insistence that we are the worst?

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