Federal Judge John Bates in Washington, D.C., has dismissed the lawsuit brought by the family of al Qaeda operative and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki which alleges that President Obama’s reported authorization of his (Awlaki’s) assassination violated his constitutional rights.
Judge Bates’s opinion is 83 pages long and I haven’t been able to do more than skim it so far. Steve Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism gives what appears to be the bottom line: the judge concluded (the quote is from the opinion) that a federal court “lacks the capacity to determine whether a specific individual in hiding overseas, whom the Director of National Intelligence has stated is an ‘operational’ member of [al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula], presents such a threat to national security that the United States may authorize the use of lethal force against him.”
I want to digest the ruling before saying much more. Suffice it to say for now that if the judge is saying courts lack the institutional competence to second-guess the commander-in-chief’s wartime judgments about how the enemy should be fought overseas, I would agree with that. But better to take the time to analyze exactly what the court said … and to remember that this is just Round One.