The White House asked a federal judge early Saturday to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of a U.S.-born radical cleric, saying the case would reveal state secrets.
The lawsuit seeks to prevent the U.S. government from targeting cleric Anwar al-Awlaki for assassination. The American cleric is believed to be living in Yemen, where U.S. authorities claim he is leading a branch of al-Qaida.
The Justice Department argued Saturday that a trial would require the United States to disclose highly-sensitive security information. Spokesman Matthew Miller said the lawsuit is asking a federal court to intervene in ongoing military action and to direct the president on how to manage that action, all on behalf of a leader of a foreign terrorist group.
Miller said Awlaki should surrender to authorities if he wants access to the U.S. legal system.
Civil liberties groups filed the lawsuit on behalf of the cleric's father, in part, to force the U.S. government to reveal how it determines which citizens should be targeted for assassination abroad.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights contend targeted killings are unconstitutional. In a joint statement Saturday, the groups argued it is "unacceptable in a democracy" for the courts to have no say in the government's assassination of its own citizens.
The Justice Department did not confirm the existence of a program targeting Americans overseas.
Awlaki has been linked to the failed bombing attempt on a U.S. airliner on December 25, 2009 and to the killing of 13 people at an army base in Texas earlier that year.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.