US memo gives legal rationale for targeted killings
06 February, 2013
WASHINGTON: The US government has authorised the killing of American citizens as part of its controversial drone campaign against al Qaeda even without intelligence that such Americans are actively plotting to attack a US target, according to a Justice Department memo.
The unclassified memo, first obtained by NBC News, argues that drone strikes are justified under American law if a targeted US citizen had "recently" been involved in "activities" posing a possible threat and provided that there is no evidence suggesting the individual "renounced or abandoned" such activities.
The document was disclosed as a bipartisan group of US senators called on the Obama administration to release to Congress "any and all" legal opinions laying out the government's understanding of what legal powers the president has to deliberately kill American citizens.
The senators who signed the letter, including members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the administration's cooperation would "help avoid an unnecessary confrontation that could affect the Senate's consideration of nominees for national security purposes."
Obama has nominated John Brennan, his White House counter terrorism adviser, who defends drone strikes, to lead the CIA.
In the unclassified Justice Department paper posted by NBC on its website, the authors laid out three conditions that the executive branch should meet before a drone strike is ordered.
A top US official must determine that the targeted person "poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States," cannot be captured, and that the strike "would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles," the department said.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment to Reuters about the report.
The memo is drawing new attention to the 2011 strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born alleged leader of Al Qaeda's Yemen-based affiliate who US investigators linked to a botched plot to blow up a U.S. airliner with a bomb hidden in a man's underwear on Christmas Day, 2009.
Targeted killings, carried out by remotely piloted unmanned aircraft, are controversial because of the risks to nearby civilians and because of their increasing use. The United Nations recently launched an investigation into their use.
Most such attacks have been carried out by the United States, but Britain and Israel have also used drones.