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Lawsuit challenges Obama administration on targeted killings of Americans

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights are joining forces in a new lawsuit against the federal government's targeted killing program, the two organizations announced on Wednesday. They filed the complaint on behalf of family members of three American citizens who had been killed by predator drones.

According to the complaint [PDF], American citizens Anwar Al-Aulaqi and Samir Khan were unlawfully killed by the CIA and Defense Department in a September 30, 2011 strike on Yemeni territory. On October 14, 2011, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi—the 16 year-old son of Anwar Al-Aulaqi—was killed by another drone in a strike that claimed the lives of at least six other people, including one other child. The suit alleges that these killings occurred in violation of the victims' Fourth and Fifth amendment rights, as well as in violation of the Constitution's ban on bills of attainder.

Adam Serwer, who has been covering targeted killings for Mother Jones, sat on a conference call with other reporters and ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer. "This suit is an effort to enforce the Constitution's most fundamental guarantee, the guarantee of due process," Jaffer told the reporters. "Ten years ago extrajudicial killing by the United States was exceptional. Now it's routine."

Indeed, the number of drone strikes has exploded under President Obama. According to a chart compiled by ProPublica, drone strikes per year under the Bush Administration tended to remain in the low single digits, until the number rose to 33 in Bush's last year in office, 2008. By 2010, the number had shot up to 118 drone strikes, before drifting back down to 70 in 2011.

In October, 2011, Reuters reported that the White House National Security Council had placed Anwar Al-Aulaqi's name on a secret "kill list." "There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel," sources told reporter Mark Hosenball. "Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate." President Obama was reportedly notified when names were added to the list, and had veto power over new additions.

For more information, read Adam Serwer in Mother Jones or watch the above video, produced by the ACLU and CCR and featuring the grandfather of Abdulrahman Al-Alauqi.