ACLU Granted Permission to Sue the U.S. Government

August 5, 2010

The American Civil Liberties Union said the U.S. Treasury Department gave it permission to sue the government over an alleged policy of seeking to kill U.S. citizens abroad who are terrorism suspects.

The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights said they were retained to bring the suit by the father of U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki, of Yemen, whom they say has been “targeted for death” without being charged or convicted. Al-Awlaki has been identified by the U.S. as a leader of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The ACLU and the Center sued the Treasury Department and its Office of Foreign Assets Control on August 2, claiming they violate the constitution by requiring, in some cases, a permit for lawyers to represent terrorism suspects.

Al-Awlaki, is identified on an OFAC list of “specially designated nationals” as a 39-year-old native of Las Cruces, New Mexico, with dual citizenships, in the U.S. and Yemen.

An Islamic cleric, al-Awlaki is said by the U.S. to have ties to recent al-Qaeda attacks on American targets. He would be tried in Yemen if captured because the nation’s constitution forbids extradition of its citizens, said Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi in an interview with Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram.

Citing reports published in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, the ACLU and the Center allege in their complaint that the cleric is on a CIA target list. The CIA target list identifies those who are to be captured or killed. The government already tried to kill him using a drone aircraft, the lawsuit against Treasury claims.

In addition to their contemplated al-Awlaki lawsuit, the New York-based organizations said they’ll continue to press their case against the Treasury Department’s licensing regime.

In some cases, OFAC has issued a general license to authorize the provision of certain legal services to individuals on the Specially Designated Nationals list. Nevertheless, in most cases, attorneys are still required by law to obtain a specific license from OFAC authorizing payment for attorneys fees and expenses related to that representation. The process of obtaining a specific license from OFAC can be quite time consuming. Due to the high number of license applications at OFAC, determinations on simple license requests are averaging roughly two (2) months. Those seeking removal from the SDN list, should know that OFAC has substantial control over that list and the removal process could take several years. The process is long and grueling, and is often one-sided and biased.

OFAC’s director, Adam Szubin, said in a statement yesterday he was willing to discuss the licensing issue with the groups.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, Interpol Litigation, International Extradition and OFAC Litigation.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at or at one of the offices listed above.

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