Photo by C.E. Lewis/U.S. Air Force via Getty Images.
Family members of three American citizens killed in U.S. drone strikes in Yemen have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against top Pentagon and CIA officials.
Cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida operative born in New Mexico, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahaman, born in Colorado, and Samir Khan, a naturalized U.S. citizen, were killed in two drone strikes last fall. Al-Awlaki was added to the “kill list” after he was linked to the attempted bombing on a Detroit-bound plane on Dec. 25, 2009.
The Guardian reports that Al-Awlaki’s father and Khan’s mother filed the suit, arguing the killings violated fundamental rights to life guaranteed to all U.S. citizens. They named Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus, and two military commanders.
"There is something terribly wrong when a [16-year-old] American boy can be killed by his own government without any accountability or explanation," Pardiss Kebriaei, a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, told the BBC.
The Obama administration has avoided addressing the legality of drone strikes, even as they’ve become an increasingly contentious point in U.S. national security. Although the lawsuit is poised to force the government to finally issue some resolution on the matter of drone strikes, the New York Times points out the case will likely run into some major impediments before it gets that far. The Justice Department may ask a judge to dismiss the case because a defense argument would require disclosing national security secrets. If the case isn’t dismissed, the officials could assert “qualified immunity,” which protects them because they did not violate “clearly established law.”
Officials with the CIA, the Pentagon, and the Justice Department offered no immediate comment on the lawsuit.