Targeted Killing: Litigation

Judge Collyer Throws Out Al-Aulaqi Bivens Suit

By Benjamin Wittes
Friday, April 4, 2014, 6:05 PM

Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has thrown out the Bivens suit by the families of Anwar Al-Aulaqi and his son, and Samir Khan, all of whom were U.S. citizens killed in drone drikes in Yemen. Here's the 41-page opinion. It opens:

Because Anwar Al-Aulaqi was a terrorist leader of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, the United States intentionally targeted and killed him with a drone strike in Yemen on September 30, 2011. The missile also killed Samir Khan, who was riding in the same vehicle. Both men were U.S. citizens. Two weeks later, on October 14, 2014, the United States killed additional individuals in Yemen with a missile from another drone. While this second drone targeted someone else, among those it killed was Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, Anwar Al-Aulaqi’s teenage son. Nasser Al-Aulaqi, father of Anwar and grandfather of Abdulrahman, and Sarah Khan, mother of Samir, sue various U.S. officials in their personal capacities. Plaintiffs claim, inter alia, that these officials violated the Fifth Amendment rights of the decedents by authorizing the drone strikes. The question presented is whether federal officials can be held personally liable for their roles in drone strikes abroad that target and kill U.S. citizens. The question raises fundamental issues regarding constitutional principles, and it is not easy to answer. However, on these facts and under this Circuit’s precedent, the Court will grant Defendants’ motion to dismiss.

Here is our account of the oral argument and the briefs.