Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta Historic Case

At a Glance

Current Status 

The case was dismissed on April 4, 2014, and the families made the decision not to appeal.

Date Filed: 

July 18, 2012

Co-Counsel 

The American Civil Liberties Union

Client 

Nasser Al-Aulaqi, father of Anwar and grandfather of Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, and Sarah Khan, mother of Samir Khan

Case Description 

Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta is a case challenging the drone killings by the United States of three U.S. citizens in Yemen.  In 2010, after reports that Anwar Al-Aulaqi had been placed on CIA and military “kill lists,” the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of his father, Nasser Al-Aulaqi, challenging the government’s authorization for his son’s killing. That case was dismissed by a district court. On September 30, 2011, U.S. drone strikes killed Anwar Al-Aulaqi, along with Samir Khan and two other men. Two weeks later, the U.S. launched another drone strike at an open-air restaurant in Yemen, killing Anwar Al-Aulaqi’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, and six others, including Abdulrahman’s teenage cousin.  CCR and the ACLU filed a second case charging that these killings, undertaken without due process, in circumstances where lethal force was not a last resort to address a specific and imminent threat and where the government failed to take required measures to protect bystanders, violated the deceased Americans’ fundamental rights under the Constitution. This case is part of CCR’s work challenging unlawful drone killings by the United States and other rights violations being committed in the name of national security.

Defendants were former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon C. Panetta, former Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command William H. McRaven, former Commander of the Joint Special Operations Command Joseph Votel, and former CIA Director David Petraeus.

 

Case Timeline

September 22, 2014

CCR Senior Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei participates in first-ever dialogue on armed drones at the UN Human Rights Council

September 22, 2014

CCR Senior Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei participates in first-ever dialogue on armed drones at the UN Human Rights Council

The United Nations Human Rights Council — a 47-member body tasked with monitoring, promoting, and protecting human rights around the world — convenes an expert panel during its September session in Geneva to address the international law obligations of states in using lethal force through armed drones and the human rights impact on those affected. The discussion was the first of its kind in the Council, a reflection of growing concern in the international community about the practice of “targeted killings” using armed drones. CCR Senior Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei was among the experts who spoke on the panel. 

June 23, 2014

Federal court orders release of previously secret government memo outlining legal justification for Al-Aulaqi killing

June 23, 2014

Federal court orders release of previously secret government memo outlining legal justification for Al-Aulaqi killing

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit orders the release of the July 2010 Department of Justice memo in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit brought by The New York Times and the ACLU.

April 4, 2014
Court grants government's motion, dismisses lawsuit
April 4, 2014
Court grants government's motion, dismisses lawsuit

The opinion, though, acknowledges that the suit "raises fundamental issues regarding constitutional principles, and it is not easy to answer." In a statement in The New York Times, Nasser al-Awlaki explains his decision not to appeal the decision, noting that he "lost faith in the American courts." He also notes that, “[a]lthough the court failed to fulfill its role in this case, my family and I continue to hope that answers to our questions about why our son and grandson were killed will someday see the light of day, and that there may someday be accountability for the government’s actions."

March 11, 2014

U.N. Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson issues report to Human Rights Council, examines October 14 strike that killed Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi

March 11, 2014

U.N. Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson issues report to Human Rights Council, examines October 14 strike that killed Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi

The report, the third annual one submitted to the Human Rights Council by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, explores the use of drones and allegations of civilian casualities. One of the specific cases investigated is the October 14, 2011 strike that killed 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, for which the report finds that "some, if not all, of those killed were civilians."

May 23, 2013
D.C. District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer hears oral argument
May 23, 2013
D.C. District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer hears oral argument

Oral argument focuses on the procedural and substantive issues raised by the government in its motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

May 22, 2013
In letter to Congress, Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledges U.S. killed Anwar Al-Aulaqi, Samir Khan, and Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi
May 22, 2013
In letter to Congress, Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledges U.S. killed Anwar Al-Aulaqi, Samir Khan, and Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi

That same day, the court orders defendants to state “how, if at all, the acknowledgment by the Attorney General affects the legal issues in this case.” The next day, President Obama gives a speech at the National Defense Univeristy, where he discusses the killing of Anwar Al-Aulaqi. On June 5, defendants file their response to the the court’s May 22 order, and on June 11, CCR and the ACLU file a reply to defendants’ response.   

February 6, 2013
CCR and ACLU file brief in response to government's motion to dismiss
February 6, 2013
CCR and ACLU file brief in response to government's motion to dismiss

CCR and the ACLU argue in their opposition to the motion to dismiss that the judiciary has a crucial role in protecting constitutional rights and holding defendants accountable. The brief also argues that the plaintiffs' constitutional claims are not barred by the political question doctrine, that remedies are available, and that the defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity. The defendants file a response to the opposition to the motion to dismiss on March 7, 2013.

February 4, 2013
Justice Department releases white paper setting forth legal justification for killing of Anwar Al-Aulaqi
February 4, 2013
Justice Department releases white paper setting forth legal justification for killing of Anwar Al-Aulaqi

The memo, entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qa’ida or An Associated Force,” sets forth a legal framework for considering the circumstances in which the U.S. government could use lethal force in a foreign country outside the area of active hostilities against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force of al-Qa'ida."

December 14, 2012
Defendants move to dismiss case
December 14, 2012
Defendants move to dismiss case

In its motion to dismiss, the government argues that there is no role for the judiciary in reviewing the claims because they raise “political questions” and national security concerns, and that defendants should be immune. On the same day, the U.S. government files a formal statement of interest in the case. 

July 18, 2012
CCR and ACLU file lawsuit against Petraeus, Panetta, McRaven and Votel challenging the killing of Anwar Al-Aulaqi, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, and Samir Khan in violation of their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights..
July 18, 2012
CCR and ACLU file lawsuit against Petraeus, Panetta, McRaven and Votel challenging the killing of Anwar Al-Aulaqi, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, and Samir Khan in violation of their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights..

The lawsuit, on behalf of the Al-Aulaqi and Khan families, challenges the legality of these killings, which occurred outside of armed conflict, under the Constitution and international law, which prohibit the government from using lethal force except as a last resort to protect against specific, concrete and imminent threats of deadly harm.  The lawsuit also alleges that the government both failed to take legally required measures to protect civilian bystanders and to ensure protection of the basic elementary constitutional right afforded to all U.S. citizens – deprivation of life without due process of law. The government has never charged any of the three U.S. citizens with a crime.

October 14, 2011

U.S. drone strike kills Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi in Yemen

October 14, 2011

U.S. drone strike kills Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi in Yemen

Missiles strike and kill 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi as he is eating dinner with his teenage cousin at an open-air restaurant in Yemen.

September 30, 2011

U.S. drone strikes kill Anwar Al-Aulaqi and Samir Khan in Yemen

September 30, 2011

U.S. drone strikes kill Anwar Al-Aulaqi and Samir Khan in Yemen

In addition to Al-Aulaqi and Samir Khan, the strikes kills three others.

December 7, 2010

D.C. District Court dismisses on procedural grounds CCR/ACLU suit challenging authorization to kill Anwar Al-Aulaqi

December 7, 2010

D.C. District Court dismisses on procedural grounds CCR/ACLU suit challenging authorization to kill Anwar Al-Aulaqi

Full details available on the Al-Aulaqi v. Obama case page. 

 

April 2010

U.S. reportedly authorizes killing of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki

April 2010

U.S. reportedly authorizes killing of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki

Several U.S. newspapers report, citing governmental officials, that the U.S. has authorized the targeted killing of Anwar Al-Aulaqi. After the Los Angeles Times first reported on the possibility in January, former director of national intelligence Dennis Blair testified in February that taking direct action against an American was possible if specific permission were obtained.