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September 25th, 2010 9:46 PM

US asserts state secret in Awlaki targeted killing case

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's administration has invoked the state secret privilege to avoid a lawsuit on behalf of Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, whose father charges the US government of targeting him for assassination.

Nasser al-Awlaki last month asked two civil rights groups to sue the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency for placing his son on a list of people targeted for killing.

The younger Awlaki is considered a dangerous terrorist by the US government and is currently believed to be hiding in Yemen.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed the court action seeking to force the US government to say how it decides to target US citizens for murder far from any armed conflict without due process.

The lawsuit names Obama, CIA director Leon Panetta and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and seeks an order to "prohibit the government from carrying out targeted killings outside of armed conflict."

Panetta filed a declaration Friday before a federal court in Washington "to formally assert and claim the state secrets privilege... to protect intelligence sources, methods and activities" that may be implicated in the Awlaki case.

"It is my belief that... this case cannot be litigated without risking or requiring the disclosure of classified and privileged intelligence information that must not be disclosed," wrote Panetta.

The ACLU and CCR, in an email to AFP Saturday slammed Panetta's reasoning.

"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.

"In matters of life and death, no executive should have a blank check."

Born in the southwestern US state of New Mexico, Awlaki, 39, rose to prominence last year after he was linked a US army major who shot dead 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas, and to a Nigerian student accused of trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on December 25.

In April, a US official said the Obama administration had authorized the targeted killing of Awlaki, after American intelligence agencies concluded the Muslim cleric was directly involved in anti-US plots.

In July, the US government said Awlaki was a key leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, placing him on its list of terrorism supporters, freezing his financial assets and banning any transactions with him.

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