WASHINGTON (AFP) – A US judge opened a hearing on CIA targeting of key terrorist suspects as a lawyer for the father of radical US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi argued a “kill list” was unconstitutional.
US District Judge John Bates heard the opening arguments in the case on the same day that a video of Awlaqi calling for the killing of Americans “without hesitation” was posted on extremist websites.
President Barack Obama’s administration has refused to officially acknowledge the existence of a targeted killing program but sources have told AFP that Awlaqi is on a “capture or kill list.”
Nasser Al-Awlaqi argues that his son, suspected of being a leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and of instigating a string of attacks against the United States, still has a constitutional right to due process.
Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which along with the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken Awlaqi’s case, accused the US government of imposing the death penalty without trial.
The administration is empowered to use lethal force against American citizens deemed a threat to national security and wants the case thrown out on the basis that such matters are not the realm of the courts.
“Your honor, if an injunction is issued here, it provides to the leader of Al-Qaeda (in the Arabian Peninsula) the ability to continue planning operations” against the United States, a government lawyer said.
Yemeni authorities, under mounting US pressure to fight Al-Qaeda after a foiled air cargo bomb plot, charged Awlaqi last week with alleged ties to Al-Qaeda and and ordered his arrest by any means possible.
The Yemen-based branch of Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the parcel bomb plot and said it was also behind the September downing of an American cargo plane in Dubai, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
The cleric has not immediately been linked to the parcel bombs, but American officials have long accused him of instigating “terrorism” from Yemen, where he is believed to be hiding in a remote area of Shabwa.
US Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan has accused the cleric of having links with Major Nidal Hasan who is suspected of shooting dead 13 people at Fort Hood military base in Texas and of having had contact with Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, accused of trying to blow up a plane over the US on Christmas Day.
Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and headquarters of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has been under intense pressure from Washington to hunt down Awlaqi.