President Barack Obama, CIA chief Leon Panetta and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights to stop the U.S. government's program of targeted assassinations.
The lawsuit, undertaken on behalf of Nasser al-Aulaqui, the father of accused terrorist Anwar al Awlaki, seeks to prevent the killings of both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals without due process.
The two civil liberties groups had sued the Treasury Department earlier in August for requiring a license to represent Anwar al Awlaki, who has been officially labeled a terrorist and targeted for death. Anwar al Awlaki is a U.S. citizen. The department says anyone in contact with persons designated as terrorists must first obtain a license allowing such interaction.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives forbidding extrajudicial killings.
"The U.S. Constitution cannot be amended for convenience," Kucinich said in a statement. "The constitutional rights of all U.S. citizens must be protected. The U.S. government cannot act as judge, jury, and executioner."
The ACLU said in a statement, ""Outside the context of armed conflict, the intentional use of lethal force without prior judicial process is an abridgement of this right except in the narrowest and most extraordinary circumstances."
At issue are both the limits of presidential power and the extreme borders of government's ability to wage the war against terrorism.
ABC News writes that the suit directly challenges President Obama's interpretation of executive power: "The point of the ACLU suit is that presidents don't have that power."
The suit says, ""The government maintains lists of suspects - "kill lists" - against whom lethal force can be used without charge, trial or conviction ... Executive officials are thus invested with sweeping authority to impose extrajudicial death sentences in violation of the Constitution and international law."
According to news reports Anwar al Awlaki is on two such lists: one maintained by the CIA and the other by the Joint Operations Special Command.
The suit maintains further that ""due process requires, at a minimum, that citizens be put on notice of what may cause them to be put to death by the state."
Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights are being abridged, according to the ACLU: the right to be free from unreasonable seizure and the right to due process before being deprived of life.
"The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights," the lawsuit says.
The U.S. government maintains it is acting within the law and authority granted by Congress after September 11.
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