Judge used al-Awlaki’s belief in Islamic law to argue for dismissal of assassination suit

Federal District Court Judge John Bates has just issued a memorandum opinion dismissing the lawsuit filed by Anwar al-Awlaki’s father (Nasser al-Aulaqi) that argued against the US government’s stated intent to assassinate his son. Each of the various causes of action used by the ACLU and CCR legal team were dismissed using a variety of different legal doctrines typically used to the question the jurisdiction of suits brought against contentious national security programs. It is interesting to note that the state-secrets privilege did not even need to be evoked by the Obama administration’s lawyers because Judge Bates found that the ACLU’s case could be dismissed using other doctrines. The international law-based Alien Tort Statute claims were dismissed mainly through the doctrines of “equitable discretion” and the “political question.” The claims made under the US Constitution were dismissed on the grounds that al-Awlaki’s father had no standing to sue on behalf of his son.

As one of the conditions for claiming the standing to litigate on another individual’s behalf, a plaintiff “must be truly dedicated to the best interests of the person on whose behalf he seeks to litigate.” The judge argued that there was sufficient evidence suggesting the al-Awlaki himself would not want any type of litigation to be brought before the US court system on his behalf. One piece of evidence in particular was cited by Judge Bates in a manner that was somewhat novel:

[Al-Aulaqi] has decried the U.S. legal system and suggested that Muslims are not bound by Western law. As recently as April 2010, Anwar Al-Aulaqi wrote an article for the AQAP publication Inspire, in which he asserted that Muslims “should not be forced to accept rulings of courts of law that are contrary to the law of Allah.” According to Anwar Al-Aulaqi, Muslims need not adhere to the laws of the “civil state,” since “the modern civil state of the West does not guarantee Islamic rights.” In a July 2010 Inspire article, Anwar Al-Aulaqi again expressed his belief that because Western “government, political parties, the police, [and] the intelligence services . . . are part of a system within which the defamation of Islam is . . . promoted . . . the attacking of any Western target [is] legal from an Islamic viewpoint.” He went on to argue that a U.S. civilian who drew a cartoon depiction of Mohammed should be “a prime target of assassination” and that “[a]ssassinations, bombings, and acts of arson” constitute “legitimate forms of revenge against a system that relishes the sacrilege of Islam in the name of freedom.”

Such statements — which reveal a complete lack of respect for U.S. law and governmental structures as well as a belief that it is “legal” and “legitimate” to violate U.S. law — do not reflect the views of an individual who would likely want to sue to vindicate his U.S. constitutional rights in U.S. courts. After all, the substantive rights that are being asserted in this case are only provided to Anwar Al-Aulaqi by the U.S. Constitution and international law. Yet he has made clear his belief that “international treaties” do not govern Muslims, and that Muslims are not bound by any law — U.S., international, or otherwise — that conflicts with the “law of Allah.” There is, then, reason to doubt that Anwar Al-Aulaqi would even regard a ruling from this Court as binding — much less that he would want to litigate in order to obtain such a ruling. (pp. 25-26)

Regardless of the other (more convincing) statements cited to support the assertion that al-Awlaki does not want a lawsuit filed on his behalf, the use of al-Awlaki’s preference for Islamic law over Western legalism is incredibly cynical. One could just as easily argue that al-Awlaki’s rejection of Western social influence means that the US should not have the right to kill him on sight. Furthermore, al-Awlaki’s own hatred of Western legalism should not be used to deny his rights as a US citizen. The same reasoning could have been used against a fair trial for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. After all, he did not think much of the civil rights of his numerous victims and rejected the authority of the federal government.

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