Skip to comments.Obama admin: Drones can target Americans abroad based on one official’s opinion
Posted on 02/05/2013 10:57:20 AM PST by SeekAndFind
The killing of al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki generated a surprising amount of controversy. The US had used drones to kill scores of AQ leaders and followers in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen before Awlaki and afterward. However, Awlaki was a US citizen, and the targeting of an American citizen by the government was considered a new step — and not necessarily a good one. The demand for a controlling procedure began to grow, amplified ironically by Barack Obama himself when the New York Times reported that he tried to rush rules into place for drone use in case Mitt Romney won the election, only to lose interest when it became clear he would win.
Unfortunately, that didn’t stop people from demanding to know how exactly the Obama administration protected the rights of Americans and ensured that a drone strike on a US citizen was undeniably justified. A leak from the Department of Justice makes it clear that it’s not clear at all:
The secrecy surrounding such strikes is fast emerging as a central issue in this weeks hearing of White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, a key architect of the drone campaign, to be CIA director. Brennan was the first administration official to publicly acknowledge drone strikes in a speech last year, calling them consistent with the inherent right of self-defense. In a separate talk at the Northwestern University Law School in March, Attorney General Eric Holder specifically endorsed the constitutionality of targeted killings of Americans, saying they could be justified if government officials determine the target poses an imminent threat of violent attack.
But the confidential Justice Department white paper introduces a more expansive definition of self-defense or imminent attack than described by Brennan or Holder in their public speeches. It refers, for example, to what it calls a broader concept of imminence than actual intelligence about any ongoing plot against the U.S. homeland.
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, the memo states.
Instead, it says, an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American has been recently involved in activities posing a threat of a violent attack and there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities. The memo does not define recently or activities.
As in Holders 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 Qaida 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.
So let’s just recap. The US can target a US citizen if they believe a threat to be “imminent” even when no threat of attack is immediately present. The target must have recently been involved in activities, with no real definition of “activities” or “recently.” And rather than prove that the US citizen plans to continue these “activities,” it’s up to the citizen to prove to a single US official that no one knows that he’s renounced and/or abandoned such “activities” — activities that the government won’t define, to an official the government won’t name.
Awlaki was an easy case. He publicly and explicitly encouraged terrorist acts, recruited new members to carry them out, and was connected to plots that actually went into action. But this memo goes way beyond the Awlaki instance and basically gives the government carte blanche to target Americans in whatever it considers to be the battlefield for almost any kind of “threat” it imagines.
Surely we can do better than this to find a hard line between the case of Awlaki and no line at all. And surely Congress can press John Brennan about this point during his confirmation hearing to the post of CIA Director.
Update: It looks like the Senate may be getting serious about this issue, too:
Eleven senators sent a letter to President Obama on Monday demanding access to secret legal memos outlining the administrations case for the targeted killing of U.S. citizens in counterterrorism operations overseas.
The letter from eight Democrats and three Republicans contained the most forceful warning to date that lawmakers were considering blocking Obamas nominees to run the CIA and Pentagon unless the memos are turned over.
The message comes three days before White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan will face a confirmation hearing to become CIA director before the Senate intelligence committee. Former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) is awaiting a vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee following his hearing last week to become secretary of defense.
Cooperation with the request will help avoid an unnecessary confrontation that could affect the Senates consideration of nominees for national security positions,the letter said.
Three members of the intelligence panel signed the letter: Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
Sorry - but plop your butt down in a jehadie camp and start shouting “Kill Americans” don’t be surprised if you get a missile in you lap.
And if there happens to be a member of the MSM sitting next to you getting the story on a “Freedom Fighter” - Too Bad, Oh so sad.
Bring it to the states and I’ll support the little jihadie and their rights.
While I think that the idea is bad it also was a part of the so called Bush Doctrine. Obama has just ramped it up.
WHO NEEDS THE FIFTH AMENDMENT ANYWAY?!?
Alright, but with the rules as they stand right now, what is limiting them to jihadists? If they want to get rid of you or I, all they have to do is wait for us to take a vacation offshore, and then get a single bureaucrat to sign off that we might have been involved in some dangerous activities.
drone attacks on americans overseas = A-OK
waterboarding non-american combatant enemies in the USA(or rendition countries) = are you nuts ? plus no panties on the head !
I agree but the fear is once the principle is established that it’s ok to kill American citizens as long as they are jihadis, what if in the future they decide to apply that principle to OTHER Americans.
Maybe we need card check for terrorists.
It will be against the law to kill any terrorists anywhere in the word unless the military can convince a 20 judge panel that the individual is not a US citizen.
Ok. You are on record as trusting that the Federal Government will always and forever use this new expanded power only against jihadis.
Hope you’re right.
Somebody tell Piers Morgan that we may need military style weapons to shoot down the drones that our tyrannical government is sending to kill us. And five bullets to a magazine just won’t cut it!
Drones can target one illegal anti-American alien in DC based on one unofficial opinion
Hey, how about droning Major Hassan then?
I wonder who will be the first head of state killed by an assassin drone? You know it’s coming down to that. These guys really need to think long and hard about just what sort of precedent they’re setting. Dangerous, imho.