WASHINGTON — Relatives of three American citizens killed in drone strikes in Yemen last year filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against four senior national security officials on July 17th. The suit, in the Federal District Court here, opened a new chapter in the legal wrangling over the Obama administration’s use of drones in pursuit of terrorism suspects away from traditional “hot” battlefields like Afghanistan.
The first strike, on Sept. 30, killed a group of people includingAnwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was born in New Mexico, and Samir Khan, a naturalized American citizen who lived at times in Queens, Long Island and North Carolina. The second, on Oct. 14, killed a group of people including Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was born in Colorado.
Accused in the suit of authorizing and directing the strikes are Leon E. Panetta, the secretary of defense; David H. Petraeus, the director of the C.I.A.; and two senior commanders of the military’s Special Operations forces, Adm. William H. McRaven of the Navy and Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Votel of the Army.
“The killings violated fundamental rights afforded to all U.S. citizens, including the right not to be deprived of life without due process of law,” the complaint says.
Press officials with the C.I.A., the Pentagon and the Justice Department declined to comment.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, was filed by Nasser al-Awlaki, who was Anwar’s father and Abdulrahman’s grandfather, and Sarah Khan, Samir’s mother. Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights are assisting them in the legal action.