EXCLUSIVE: Justice Department memo reveals legal case for drone strikes on Americans
A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” -- even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.
The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices.
“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.”
“This is a chilling document,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, which is suing to obtain administration memos about the targeted killing of Americans. “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.”
Human-rights advocates were floored on Monday night when NBC News published the details of an alarming Justice Department memo detailing the protocol for sending drones after United States citizens.
How Obama Decides to Kill American Citizens in the War on Terror: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2013/02/take-rare-look-how-obama-decides-send-drones-kill-americans/61794/
Someone Just Leaked Obama's Rules for Assassinating American Citizens: http://reason.com/blog/2013/02/04/someone-just-leaked-obamas-rules-for-ass
Oddly, under current law, Congress and the courts are involved when presidents eavesdrop on Americans, detain them or harshly interrogate them — but not when they kill them.
It is not just the most recent president, this one and the next whom we need to worry about when it comes to improper exercise of power. It is every president. Mr. Obama should declassify and release, to Congress, the press and the public, documents that set forth the detailed constitutional and statutory analysis he relies on for targeting and killing American citizens.
Perhaps Mr. Obama still believes that, in a democracy, the people have a right to know the legal theories upon which the president executes his great powers. Certainly, we can hope so. After all, his interpretation might be wrong.
Constitutional experts said the memo's definition doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Administration critics immediately said the white paper is fresh evidence the president has abandoned his 2008 campaign pledge to recognize and respect the limits of executive power.
Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union called the document "pretty remarkable" and said some of its arguments "don't stand up to even cursory review." He said the paper “only underscores the irresponsible extravagance of the government's central claim.”
Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, called the document “profoundly disturbing” and said it was “hard to believe that it was produced in a democracy built on a system of checks and balances.”
“It summarizes in cold legal terms a stunning overreach of executive authority –- the claimed power to declare Americans a threat and kill them far from a recognized battlefield and without any judicial involvement before or after the fact,” Shamsi said in a statement.