Obama DOJ: We Don’t Need Clear Evidence To Kill Americans With Drones
“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” reads a confidential Justice Department memo defending the U.S. government’s ability to order the killing of American citizens if they believe them to be “senior operational leaders” or “an associated force,” even if they don’t have any evidence that the person targeted is actually engaged in or plotting an attack on the U.S.
All of the controversy stemmed from the September 2011 drone strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes. The “kill list” was affirmed last year as then Obama’s assassination czar, John Brennan, was appointed. Now that same Brennan, who was a key architect in the drone campaign, has now been appointed by Obama as the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), following David Petraeus’ resignation.
The memo states that “no clear evidence of a specific attack on persons and interests” is needed, nor does the “operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States” in order to be targeted for assassination by the Federal government.
“This conclusion is reached with recognition of the extraordinary seriousness of a lethal operation by the United States against a U.S. citizen, and also of the extraordinary seriousness of the threat posed by senior operational al Qaeda members and the loss of life that would result were their operations successful,” the memo reads.
It gets worse.
Michael Isikoff points out the following:
As in Holder’s speech, the confidential memo lays out a three-part test that would make targeted killings of American lawful: In addition to the suspect being an imminent threat, capture of the target must be “infeasible, and the strike must be conducted according to “law of war principles.” But the memo elaborates on some of these factors in ways that go beyond what the attorney general said publicly. For example, it states that U.S. officials may consider whether an attempted capture of a suspect would pose an “undue risk” to U.S. personnel involved in such an operation. If so, U.S. officials could determine that the capture operation of the targeted American would not be feasible, making it lawful for the U.S. government to order a killing instead, the memo concludes.
The undated memo is entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qa’ida or An Associated Force.” It was provided to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees in June by administration officials on the condition that it be kept confidential and not discussed publicly.
Although not an official legal memo, the white paper was represented by administration officials as a policy document that closely mirrors the arguments of classified memos on targeted killings by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provides authoritative legal advice to the president and all executive branch agencies. The administration has refused to turn over to Congress or release those memos publicly — or even publicly confirm their existence. A source with access to the white paper, which is not classified, provided a copy to NBC News.
Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in an interview with NBC said the document was “chilling.”
“Basically, it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen. … It recognizes some limits on the authority it sets out, but the limits are elastic and vaguely defined, and it’s easy to see how they could be manipulated,” Jaffer said.
Justin Sink recalls, “In November, the New York Times reported that the White House was working to codify rules to govern the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones. The codification work was begun during last year’s presidential election.