Saturday, April 5, 2014
Judge Rosemary M. Collyer (D.D.C.) yesterday dismissed a civil damages claim against government officials for their roles in authorizing the targeted killing of Anwar Al-Aulaqi, his son, and Samir Khan. Judge Collyer wrote in Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta that "special factors" counseled against the Bivens claim.
We've covered Al-Aulaqi's claims extensively (sometimes Al-Awlaki, sometimes Al-Awlaqi), both pre-killing and post-killing, brought by his father, Nasser. Here's our post on Judge Bates's ruling dismissing Nasser's case to stop the killing.
The ruling adds to a body of lower-court cases limiting civil damage remedies against government officials for constitutional violations for actions related to the military, intelligence, and terrorism. Indeed, these cases give government officials a free pass against civil damages claims for any action even loosely related to these areas, even with no showing by the government that the claims raise special factors counseling against a remedy (as this case illustrates--see below).
Nasser Al-Aulaqi brought this claim on behalf of his son Anwar and grandson Abdulrahman, along with Sarah Khan, who brought the claim on behalf of her son Samir. Anwar was designated for targeting; Abdulrahman and Samir were not (they were bystanders in Anwar's targeted killing and another targeted killing). All three were U.S. citizens.
Nasser and Sarah sued government officials in their personal capacity under Bivens for Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations (among others). The officials moved to dismiss, arguing that the complaint failed to state a claim, that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy, and that they enjoyed qualified immunity.
Judge Collyer ruled that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy. Citing Doe v. Rumsfeld, Lebron v. Rumsfeld, and Vance v. Rumsfeld, she wrote that military decisions get a pass, and that Bivens ought not be extended to them:
In this delicate area of warmaking, national security, and foreign relations, the judiciary has an exceedingly limited role. This Court is not equipped to qustion, and does not make a finding concerning, Defendants' actions in dealing with AQAP generally or Awar Al-Aulaqi in particular. Its role is much more modest: only to ensure that the circumstances of the exercise of war powers against a specifically-targeted U.S. citizen overseas do not call for the recognition of a new area of Bivens relief.
Here, Congress and the Executive have acted in concert, pursuant to their Constitutional authorities to provide for national defense and to regulate the military. The need to hesitate before implying a Bivens claim is particularly clear. Congress enacted the AUMF, authorizing the Executive to use necessary and appropriate military force against al-Qa'ida and affiliated forces. It is the Executive's position that AQAP is affiliated with al-Qa'ida.
. . .
Permitting Plaintiffs to pursue a Bivens remedy under the circumstances of this case would impermissibly draw the Court into "the heart of executive and military planning and deliberation," as the suit would require the Court to examine national security policy and the military chain of command as well as operational combat decisions regarding the designation of targets and how best to counter threats to the United States.
. . .
Plaintiff's Complaint also raises questions regarding foreign policy because Anwar Al-Aulaqi was a dual U.S.-Yemeni citizen who was killed in Yemen. Plaintiff's suit against top U.S. officials for their role in ordering a missile strike against a dual citizen in a foreign country necessarily implicates foreign policy.
Remarkably, the court so concluded without any help of from the government--even after the court ordered the government to help by providing material in camera and ex parte to support the special-factors defense.
The United States filed a Statement of Interest in the case, stating that it might later assert a state secrets defense. Judge Collyer ordered the government to lodge declarations, in camera and ex parte to explain why special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy in the case. The government refused, arguing that the court could resolve the defendants' motion to dismiss on the complaint alone.
Judge Collyer scolded the government for its refusal--and wrote that this made the court's job "unnecessarily difficult"--but still "cobble[d] together enough judicially-noticeable facts from various records" to conclude that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy. She wrote that without these facts, the court "would have denied the motion to dismiss."