White House invokes state secrets privilege to block targeted killings suit

The White House on Saturday invoked the state secrets privilege to toss a lawsuit brought by civil liberties groups against an assassination plan against terrorists that would also target a U.S. citizen.

Anwar al-Awlaki, an alleged al-Qaeda regional commander born in New Mexico and reportedly hiding in Yemen, has been linked to the Fort Hood shootings and the attempt by a Nigerian man to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day. The cleric, author of "44 Ways to Support Jihad," also reportedly inspired the Times Square car bombing attempt in May, and placed a fatwa on Seattle Weekly cartoonist Molly Norris for suggesting a controversial “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”.

He's said to be on a U.S. list that approves death or capture of key terrorist suspects. The 39-year-old's placement on the list in April made him the first U.S. citizen to land on the CIA targeted kill list.

Al-Awlaki's father enlisted the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights to challenge the program in court and declare the targeted killings unconstitutional.

The lawsuit also aimed to block the assassination green light against al-Awlaki, and compel the U.S. government to disclose the guidelines for putting a U.S. citizen on such a list.

According to the Associated Press, the administration invoked the rule that asserts court proceedings and evidence revealed in such would endanger national security. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in the declaration filed in federal court, said he was invoking the military and state secrets privilege because of information that could be disclosed on possible military operations in Yemen.

"I am invoking the privilege over any information, if it exists, that would tend to confirm or deny any allegations in the complaint pertaining to the CIA," CIA Director Leon Panetta's court statement said.

"The idea that courts should have no role whatsoever in determining the criteria by which the executive branch can kill its own citizens is unacceptable in a democracy," the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement, according to AP. "In matters of life and death, no executive should have a blank check."

Nasser al-Awlaki previously told the Times of London that U.S. authorities should pursue charges against his son in court if they thought him to to be guilty of a crime.

"What the U.S. government is doing is against the American constitution," he said from Yemen. "If Anwar has done anything wrong he should be prosecuted, not targeted by a drone."

In a January interview with CNN, the senior al-Awlaki said his son was not a member of al-Qaeda and not hiding out with the terror group in Yemen.

"What do you expect my son to do? There are missiles raining down on the village," he said. "He has to hide. But he is not hiding with al-Qaeda; our tribe is protecting him right now. My son is (a) wanted man, he's cornered, that's the problem I am facing."

The father added, "He's not Osama bin Laden."

The White House maintains that al-Awlaki is a direct and serious threat to national security. In July, the Treasury Department froze his assets.

In April, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) introduced a resolution urging that al-Awlaki be stripped of his citizenship. It has 17 co-sponors and remains in a House subcommittee.