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Admission of al-Awlaki killing could affect family's lawsuit against government

Anonymous / AP

Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Yemeni cleric and recruiter for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen, in an October 2008 photo.

Now that the U.S. government has publicly acknowledged that it launched a drone strike that killed U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen two years ago, a federal judge has asked the Justice Department to explain what effect the admission will have on a lawsuit filed by al-Awlaki’s father.

In an order issued late Wednesday, Judge Rosemary Collyer ordered the Justice Department to file a memo stating how Attorney General Eric Holder’s confirmation Wednesday that the government had targeted and killed al-Awlaki “affects the legal issues in the case.”

Earlier, a letter that Holder sent to Congress confirmed that the U.S. had targeted al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born radical cleric who died in a Sept. 30, 2011, drone strike. The letter also acknowledged that the U.S. had killed three other Americans in drone strikes, including “Inspire” magazine editor Samir Khan, who died in the same Sept. 30 attack, al-Awlaki’s son, Abdulrahman, and Jude Kenan Mohammed. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki died in an October 2011 Yemen drone strike, while Mohammed was killed in Pakistan in November  2011.

Anwar al-Awlaki’s father, Nasser, a citizen and resident of Yemen, is suing the U.S. government over the killing of his son and grandson. Samir Khan’s mother, a U.S. citizen, has joined the lawsuit.

The Justice Department has asked a federal judge to throw the case out, mainly on the grounds that the courts have no role in passing judgment on what is essentially a military and foreign policy decision to target someone overseas.  But the government also argues that the targeted killing program is classified.

"Plaintiffs' allegations that Department of Defense and CIA officials targeted al-Awlaki and then 'authorized and directed' a series of missile strikes in Yemen,” says the government, “are claims which ... would 'inevitably require an inquiry into classified information.'"

A hearing on the government's request to dismiss the lawsuit is scheduled for June 19.

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