WASHINGTON — When senior Obama administration officials invoked the state-secrets privilege Saturday to dismiss a lawsuit brought on behalf of U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, they declared in federal court that the case threatened to expose secret military and intelligence operations against al-Qaida's overseas network.
In a 60-page filing, the government asked U.S. District Judge Robert Bates to dismiss a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups retained by Aulaqi's father seeking to block his Yemen-based son's placement on the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command capture-or-kill list of suspected terrorists.
The filing also asked the court to dismiss the case without debating the merits of any future actions potentially taken against Aulaqi on the grounds that targeting in wartime is a matter for presidents, and that Aulaqi's father did not have legal standing to bring the case.
Civil rights groups filed a suit last month to halt the targeting of Aulaqi, arguing that such an action outside a war zone and absent an imminent threat amounted to an extrajudicial execution order against a U.S. citizen.
In an effort to keep secret particular operations in Yemen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said classified "information concerning whether or not U.S. armed forces are planning to undertake military actions in a foreign country, against particular targets, under what circumstances, for what reasons and pursuant to what procedures or criteria" cannot be disclosed without seriously harming national security.
CIA Director Leon Panetta sought to withhold "any information, if it exists, that would tend to confirm or deny any allegations in the complaint pertaining to the CIA."
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in his declaration cited Aulaqi's leadership role in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and a Dec. 25 bombing plot against a Detroit-bound jetliner.