In 2011, U.S. drones in Yemen killed three U.S. citizens. One of them, Anwar Al-Aulaqi, was an intended target since he was on the CIA and Pentagon’s “kill-lists” of suspected terrorists operating overseas. The other two were not intended targets. We filed a lawsuit in July 2012 on behalf of the estates of these three U.S. citizens, seeking damages from former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, former CIA Director David Petraeus, Admiral William McRaven, and Lt. General Joseph Votel.

With regard to Mr. Al-Aulaqi, we alleged that killing him violated his rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments because he did not pose an imminent threat to the United States. With regard to the non-targets, we alleged that the government failed to take adequate measures to avoid killing innocent bystanders. 

The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the case presented only “political questions,” and the Court therefore lacked jurisdiction; that it would be inappropriate to recognize a damages remedy in this context; and that they have qualified immunity because they did not violate any clearly established constitutional rights.

In April 2014, the district court rejected the government’s argument that the case should be dismissed as presenting only a “political question,” but held that it was barred by “special factors.” One such special factor was that it would “impermissibly draw the Court into ‘the heart of executive and military planning and deliberation.’”

We did not appeal. 

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Center for Constitutional Rights

Date filed

August 30, 2010