Families of Drone Victims: No Hope for Justice in US Courts

The surviving family members of three American citizens killed in U.S. drone strikes in Yemen decided this week to discontinue an effort to hold top military and CIA officials accountable in U.S. courts for targeted executions without trial, saying their faith that they can achieve justice has been “shattered.”

“I have now spent years asking American courts to decide whether the U.S. government can deprive even its own citizens of life as part of a killing program that has devastated families like ours, and the courts have repeatedly accepted the government’s broad claims of national security and told me they will not decide,” said Nasser Al Aulaqi, who lost his son and grandson in the attacks, in a statement emailed to Common Dreams. “This isn’t justice.”

U.S. drone strikes in September 2011 killed U.S. citizens Anwar Al Aulaqi, who had been placed on a “kill list,” and Samir Khan, as well as three other people. Just weeks later, another U.S. drone attack on a restaurant in Yemen killed Anwar Al-Aulaqi’s son Abdulrahman, also a U.S. citizen, and six other civilians.

“I have no faith left in a judiciary that refuses even to hear whether Abdulrahman, an American child, was wrongfully killed by his own government.” —Nasser Al Aulaqi

The father of Anwar and grandfather of Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, Nasser Al-Aulaqi, and mother of Samir Khan, Sarah Khan, sued four top officials—including Defense Secretary and former CIA Director Leon C. Panetta and former CIA Director David Petraeus—in July 2012, charging they had taken the lives of U.S. citizens without due process. The Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union helped levy the lawsuit.

“In claiming the power to target and kill individuals, including U.S. citizens, without due process and far from any field of armed conflict, the U.S. government is effectively turning the whole world into a potential battlefield with incalculable harm to the lives of people everywhere,” declared CCR in a fact sheet about the case.


In April 2014, years after the lawsuit was filed, federal judge Rosemary M. Collyer of the DC District Court dismissed of the case.

Family members chose not to appeal the dismissal, and the deadline for filing an appeal expired Tuesday. “My faith was shattered by the district court’s opinion, which went out of its way to defer to the government’s claims of killing authority, without allowing those claims to be challenged,” said Nasser Al Aulaqi. “I have no faith left in a judiciary that refuses even to hear whether Abdulrahman, an American child, was wrongfully killed by his own government.”

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Nasser Al Aulaqi also sued the Obama administration in 2010 in a bid to prevent the targeted killing of his son, but that effort was dismissed as well.

In a statement by the ACLU and CCR, emailed to Common Dreams on Wednesday, the organizations declared, “The U.S. government killed three Americans without due process. Their families asked a U.S. court to fulfill its crucial role in deciding whether the government’s claims of killing authority are lawful. Getting answers in court for the state’s killing of citizens should not be too much to ask in a democracy, but our system of checks and balances failed these families.”

In this short video produced by CCR and the ACLU, Nasser Al Aulaqi discusses the life and loss of his grandson, Abdulrahman:


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