March 5th, 2012
05:30 PM ET

Holder: Not 'assassination' to target Americans in terror hunt

By Terry Frieden

Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday defended the targeted killing of U.S. citizens abroad who are suspected of plotting to kill Americans, rejecting critics' arguments that those strikes amount to assassinations.

While not referring directly to the government's drone attack on U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen last year, Holder was unflinching in providing publicly for the first time the Justice Department's legal justification for using lethal force, saying attacks like the strike that killed al-Awlaki fell within "our laws and values."

RECOMMENDED on GPS blog: Evaluating Holder's speech on targeted killings

"Let me be clear: An operation using lethal force in a foreign country, targeted against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated force, and who is actively engaged in planning to kill Americans, would be lawful," he said.

Security Clearance: Covering terrorism, military, intelligence and diplomacy

The attorney general's speech to an audience at the Northwestern University Law School in Chicago marked his most expansive comments on the subject of deadly attacks against Americans since his lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel wrote a still-secret opinion declaring such lethal attacks are legal and justifiable.

But he said three conditions must exist. The U.S. government must have determined that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against America; capture of the suspect is not feasible; and the operation would be conducted within the principles of the law of war.

Holder argued that al Qaeda has the ability to spring surprise attacks and is considered to be continuously planning against to attack on America. Therefore, the law allows for striking even before the "precise time, place, and manner of an attack becomes clear."

"Such a requirement would create an unacceptably high risk that our efforts would fail, and that Americans would be killed," he said.

Holder rejected the charge that the deadly operations violate the government's ban on assassinations and dismissed the notion the strikes fit the definition of assassination at all.

"Some have called such operations 'assassinations.' They are not, and the use of that loaded term is misplaced," he said. "Assassination are unlawful killings," while killings under the conditions he outlined would be lawful.

Holder also took issue with those who have charged the government agencies must get permission from a federal court before taking action against an al Qaeda target.

"This is simply not accurate," Holder said. "Due process and judicial process are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process."

Al-Awlaki and another American, Samir Khan, were killed in September when a drone operated jointly by the CIA and a military unit destroyed a vehicle in which the men were riding in Yemen. Al-Awlaki, who U.S. intelligence officials have said was an operational planner for attacks, was the target of that strike.

Khan was traveling with al-Awlaki and was not specifically targeted.

Court documents show that Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, the so-called "Underwear Bomber," told U.S. authorities that al-Awlaki had played a major role in the plot to blow up a commercial airliner en route to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. President Obama later said al-Awlaki had "directed the failed attempt."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging the administration's drone program on behalf of al-Awlaki's father, said the speech was "a gesture towards additional transparency," but continued to object to the legal rationale.

"Few things are as dangerous to American liberty as the proposition that the government should be able to kill citizens anywhere in the world on the basis of legal standards and evidence that are never submitted to a court, either before or after the fact," Hina Shamsi, the director of ACLU's National Security Project, said in an e-mailed statement. "Anyone willing to trust President Obama with the power to secretly declare an American citizen an enemy of the state and order his extrajudicial killing should ask whether they would be willing to trust the next president with that dangerous power."

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said Holder's speech left questions unanswered.

“For example, the government should explain exactly how much evidence the President needs in order to decide that a particular American is part of a terrorist group," Wyden said in a statement released on Monday.  "It is also unclear to me whether individual Americans must be given the opportunity to surrender before lethal force is used against them.  And I’m particularly concerned that the geographic boundaries of this authority have not been clearly laid out.  Based on what I’ve heard so far, I can’t tell whether or not the Justice Department’s legal arguments would allow the President to order intelligence agencies to kill an American inside the United States."

Holder also used the speech to defend the use of civilian courts to try terrorists, noting numerous successful prosecutions.

"The calls that I've heard to ban the use of civilian courts in prosecutions of terrorism-related activity are so baffling, and ultimately are so dangerous. These calls ignore reality," Holder said. "If heeded, they would significantly weaken - in fact, they would cripple - our ability to incapacitate and punish those who attempt do us harm."

And Holder indicated more targeted killings are possible.

"When such individuals take up arms against this country, and join al Qaeda in plotting attacks designed to kill their fellow Americans, there may be only one realistic and appropriate response," Holder said. "We must take steps to stop them in full accordance with the Constitution. In this hour of danger, we simply cannot afford to wait until deadly plans are carried out, and we will not."

He concluded, "This is an indicator of our times, not a departure from our laws and values."

Follow Security Clearance on Twitter

Filed under: Al Qaeda • Anwar al-Awlaki • AQAP • drones • Intelligence • Justice Department • Living With Terror • Terrorism • Yemen
soundoff (2,369 Responses)
  1. Coachmen Van Repair Shop Near Me

    June 12, 2021 at 4:26 am | Reply
  2. RV Mattresses Los Angeles

    I'm very happy to discover this web site. I need to to thank you for your time due to this wonderful read!! I definitely liked every part of it and I have you saved to fav to look at new information in your blog.

    June 12, 2021 at 4:26 am | Reply
  3. dịch vụ seo

    808491 392367I like this post extremely considerably. I will certainly be back. Hope that I can go by way of more insightful posts then. Will likely be sharing your wisdom with all of my pals! 34316

    June 12, 2021 at 3:41 am | Reply
  4. wesestotte

    erectile vacuum pump video loonee erectile tension rings
    erectile lump Theotte erectile issues
    erectile medication where to purchase Bribly can erectile dysfunction be healed

    June 12, 2021 at 2:22 am | Reply
  5. rv remodel near me

    Your style is unique compared to other folks I have read stuff from. Thanks for posting when you've got the opportunity, Guess I'll just bookmark this site.

    June 11, 2021 at 9:13 pm | Reply
  6. Dodge Sprinter Repair Shop

    June 11, 2021 at 7:39 pm | Reply
  7. wesestotte

    erectile herbs and vitamins loonee is erectile dysfunction life threatening
    overcoming erectile dysfunction without drugs Theotte how erectile dysfunction affects marriage
    can erectile dysfunction be fixed Bribly erectile vacuum device

    June 11, 2021 at 6:35 pm | Reply
  8. Van Meter Auto Repair

    I seriously love your site.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you develop this web site yourself? Please reply back as Iím trying to create my own site and want to know where you got this from or just what the theme is named. Many thanks!

    June 11, 2021 at 5:26 pm | Reply
  9. Sprinter Van Conversion Shop Near Me

    June 11, 2021 at 5:26 pm | Reply
  10. RV Upholstery Orange County

    June 11, 2021 at 5:26 pm | Reply
  11. rv repair near my location

    June 11, 2021 at 1:57 pm | Reply
  12. refill near me

    I blog quite often and I seriously appreciate your content. This great article has really peaked my interest. I'm going to book mark your site and keep checking for new information about once a week. I opted in for your Feed too.


    June 11, 2021 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  13. rv repair service near me

    June 11, 2021 at 12:53 pm | Reply
  14. wesestotte

    erectile discussion loonee erectile disorder dsm 5 criteria
    erectile function healthy dads healthy kids Theotte erectile dysfunction drugs
    buy erectile dysfunction pills online india Bribly what erectile dysfunction drug works best

    June 11, 2021 at 10:38 am | Reply
  15. Peter Nauyen

    June 11, 2021 at 7:18 am | Reply
  16. Kenny Gurney

    June 11, 2021 at 6:42 am | Reply
  17. Carita Schummer

    June 11, 2021 at 6:42 am | Reply
  18. Joel Tevada

    Very good post! We will be linking to this particularly great content on our website. Keep up the good writing.

    June 11, 2021 at 5:42 am | Reply
  19. rv repair shop

    Everything is very open with a really clear description of the issues. It was truly informative. Your site is very helpful. Thanks for sharing!

    June 11, 2021 at 3:44 am | Reply
  20. wesestotte

    cheapest erectile dysfunction loonee erectile over the counter products
    erectile implant surgery Theotte erectile medicine new zealand silvasta
    best erectile dysfunction remedies Bribly erectile coffee

    June 11, 2021 at 2:32 am | Reply
  21. Everette Caporiccio

    An intriguing discussion is worth comment. I do believe that you ought to write more on this topic, it might not be a taboo matter but generally people do not talk about these issues. To the next! All the best!!

    June 10, 2021 at 11:57 pm | Reply
  22. wesestotte

    is erectile dysfunction psychological loonee erectile mastery exercises
    do erectile pills permanently increase size Theotte youtube erectile dysfunction
    when does erectile dysfunction start Bribly erectile quality scale

    June 10, 2021 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  23. Idella Navanjo

    Excellent post! We will be linking to this great post on our site. Keep up the good writing.

    June 10, 2021 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  24. rv repair service near me‎decoration-of-sets-and-‎makeup-in-a-new-spot-zlatko-pejakovic-dynamite

    June 10, 2021 at 6:21 pm | Reply
  25. Tora Hustead

    I like reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for permitting me to comment!

    June 10, 2021 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  26. wesestotte

    erectile vitimans loonee erectile reverser
    erectile help massage Theotte best erectile
    acupuncture for erectile Bribly erectile clinic chicago

    June 10, 2021 at 11:25 am | Reply
  27. Val Maffitt

    June 10, 2021 at 9:11 am | Reply
  28. rv repair<a+href=

    June 10, 2021 at 9:02 am | Reply
  29. Shelly Jurgensen

    Good information. Lucky me I found your website by chance (stumbleupon). I have saved it for later!

    June 10, 2021 at 8:58 am | Reply
  30. Jordan Cuttino

    Itís nearly impossible to find educated people about this topic, however, you seem like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks

    June 10, 2021 at 8:29 am | Reply
  31. wesestotte

    10 best erectile loonee erectile lubricants
    erectile deformity Theotte erectile function after prostate surgery
    buy erectile dysfunction medications online Bribly erectile after you quit drinking

    June 10, 2021 at 3:27 am | Reply
  32. Ruthanne Swoboda

    June 10, 2021 at 1:45 am | Reply
  33. rv repair near me

    Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post! It is the little changes that will make the biggest changes. Thanks a lot for sharing!

    June 9, 2021 at 11:39 pm | Reply
  34. Qiana Arrizaga

    I absolutely love your site.. Excellent colors & theme. Did you build this website yourself? Please reply back as Iím wanting to create my own personal blog and would love to find out where you got this from or just what the theme is called. Thank you!

    June 9, 2021 at 10:04 pm | Reply
  35. Lore Ascher

    Great post! We are linking to this particularly great content on our website. Keep up the great writing.

    June 9, 2021 at 10:04 pm | Reply
  36. Fausto Stoecklin

    You should take part in a contest for one of the best websites online. I will recommend this site!

    June 9, 2021 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  37. wesestotte

    erectile doctor memphis tn loonee erectile function magnesium vitamin k
    how erectile dysfunction drugs work Theotte 10 best erectile
    erectile enhancement supplements Bribly erectile clinic

    June 9, 2021 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  38. Joel Aavang

    Good article. I will be dealing with some of these issues as well..

    June 9, 2021 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  39. Video Marketing Agencies

    June 9, 2021 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  40. wesestotte

    bladder cancer erectile beefs function loonee erectile reverser
    which erectile dysfunction pills work Theotte compare erectile dysfunction medication
    erectile function after prostatectomy Bribly erectile tissue around the urethra

    June 9, 2021 at 11:44 am | Reply
  41. Adan Stockman

    June 9, 2021 at 11:05 am | Reply
  42. Herman Galarneau

    Spot on with this write-up, I actually feel this web site needs a great deal more attention. Iíll probably be back again to read more, thanks for the info!

    June 9, 2021 at 11:04 am | Reply
  43. Korey Kveton

    June 9, 2021 at 10:54 am | Reply
  44. wesestotte

    top erectile urologists in san francisco loonee erectile tissue histology
    erectile discharge Theotte erectile triggers
    erectile specialist Bribly is erectile dysfunction dangerous

    June 9, 2021 at 3:37 am | Reply
  45. Content Marketing Near Me

    After exploring a handful of the blog articles on your site, I really like your technique of writing a blog. I bookmarked it to my bookmark webpage list and will be checking back in the near future. Please visit my website too and tell me your opinion.

    June 9, 2021 at 2:46 am | Reply
  46. wesestotte

    what cause erectile dysfunction loonee for erectile health and better blood flow
    erectile pillole Theotte erectile disease quiz
    erectile pills without a doctor prescription Bribly erectile band

    June 8, 2021 at 6:46 pm | Reply
  47. rv body repair near me

    Good post. I certainly appreciate this site. Continue the good work!

    June 8, 2021 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  48. RV Dent Repair California

    June 8, 2021 at 3:36 pm | Reply
  49. nearby rv repair

    After exploring a few of the articles on your blog, I honestly like your technique of blogging. I book-marked it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back soon. Take a look at my website too and let me know what you think.

    June 8, 2021 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  50. wesestotte

    erectile aids for men loonee erectile organ
    best erectile supplements Theotte erectile issues in your 40s
    can erectile dysfunction be temporary Bribly erectile problems and solutions

    June 8, 2021 at 10:37 am | Reply
  51. Los Angeles Sprinter Repair

    I used to be able to find good info from your blog articles.

    June 8, 2021 at 10:15 am | Reply
  52. wesestotte

    what does erectile dysfunction mean loonee erectile function questionnaire
    erectile pictures Theotte erectile injection therapy plan
    botox for erectile dysfunction Bribly best erectile dysfunction pills

    June 8, 2021 at 2:22 am | Reply
  53. rv inspection near me

    May I just say what a relief to find a person that actually understands what they're discussing over the internet. You certainly know how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More and more people really need to check this out and understand this side of your story. I was surprised that you are not more popular because you certainly have the gift.

    June 7, 2021 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  54. RV Shades Riverside

    Everything is very open with a precise explanation of the issues. It was definitely informative. Your site is very helpful. Thank you for sharing!

    June 7, 2021 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  55. school bus repair near me

    Having read this I thought it was very enlightening. I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this information together. I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!

    June 7, 2021 at 10:07 pm | Reply
  56. Chevy Venture Van Repair

    The next time I read a blog, I hope that it won't disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I genuinely believed you would probably have something useful to say. All I hear is a bunch of crying about something that you could possibly fix if you were not too busy searching for attention.

    June 7, 2021 at 10:07 pm | Reply
  57. wesestotte

    erectile prosthetic loonee can erectile dysfunction be corrected
    erectile medication over the counter Theotte cheapest erectile dysfunction drugs
    erectile function cocaine abuse Bribly erectile device

    June 7, 2021 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  58. casino near me

    June 7, 2021 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  59. wesestotte

    erectile help massage loonee erectile disorder vs erectile dysfunction
    erectile strength Theotte erectile performance
    best erectile dysfunction meds Bribly top erectile dysfunction pills

    June 7, 2021 at 10:01 am | Reply
  60. wesestotte

    erectile on demand scam loonee erectile function score
    erectile aids Theotte erectile pills gas station
    erectile aid pump Bribly erectile function questionnaire

    June 7, 2021 at 1:46 am | Reply
  61. hydroxychloroquine where to buy

    side effects of chloroquine hydroxychloroquine where to buy chloroquine malaria

    June 7, 2021 at 12:48 am | Reply
  62. Egr Def Repair Mercedes Sprinter

    June 7, 2021 at 12:29 am | Reply
  63. rv repair orange county

    June 7, 2021 at 12:28 am | Reply
  64. wesestotte

    is erectile dysfunction real loonee cheapest erectile dysfunction
    order erectile dysfunction pills from india Theotte erectile spray
    erectile curve Bribly erectile function after prostate cancer

    June 6, 2021 at 5:55 pm | Reply
  65. school bus repair shops

    Very good blog post. I certainly love this website. Thanks!

    June 6, 2021 at 4:40 pm | Reply
  66. wesestotte

    erectile pill as shown on shark tank loonee erectile capacity
    muse for erectile dysfunction Theotte why erectile dysfunction
    erectile dysfunction causes Bribly can erectile dysfunction delay pregnancy

    June 6, 2021 at 10:11 am | Reply
  67. wesestotte

    buy erectile dysfunction meds online loonee erectile shake
    is erectile dysfunction dangerous Theotte does erectile dysfunction affect desire
    erectile organs crossword Bribly buy erectile dysfunction meds

    June 6, 2021 at 2:30 am | Reply
  68. chloroquine prophylaxis

    hydroxychloroquine sulphate chloroquine price in india hydroxychloronique

    June 5, 2021 at 10:02 pm | Reply
  69. chinese buffet near me

    This is a topic which is close to my heart... Take care! Exactly where are your contact details though?

    June 5, 2021 at 9:50 pm | Reply
  70. how to repair rv plumbing

    I blog quite often and I really thank you for your information. The article has really peaked my interest. I am going to book mark your site and keep checking for new information about once a week. I opted in for your Feed as well.

    June 5, 2021 at 7:56 pm | Reply
  71. Sprinter Service Near Me

    Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon everyday. It's always useful to read articles from other writers and use a little something from other websites.

    June 5, 2021 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  72. wesestotte

    erectile help loonee erectile function healthy dads healthy kids
    erectile issues Theotte erectile rehabilitation
    can erectile dysfunction be prevented Bribly is erectile dysfunction normal

    June 5, 2021 at 6:37 pm | Reply
  73. wesestotte

    bladder cancer erectile beefs function loonee erectile dysfunction guide
    does erectile dysfunction cause depression Theotte are erectile dysfunction pills dangerous
    erectile herbs Bribly erectile tissue location and function

    June 5, 2021 at 10:29 am | Reply
  74. espiar whatsapp

    754179 181749Extremely man or woman speeches need to have to seat giving observe into couples. Brand new sound system just before unnecessary individuals ought to always be mindful of normally senior general rule from public speaking, which is to be the mini. best man speaches 141153

    June 5, 2021 at 8:00 am | Reply
  75. cost of cialis

    mambo 36 tadalafil 20 mg what is tadalafil vidalista 20 mg

    June 5, 2021 at 4:26 am | Reply
  76. 2009 Stuck Intake Dodge Sprinter Repair

    June 5, 2021 at 2:48 am | Reply
  77. wesestotte

    erectile chambers loonee topical erectile dysfunction
    erectile dysfunction in children Theotte cialis without erectile dysfunction
    how erectile dysfunction drugs work Bribly erectile on demand

    June 5, 2021 at 2:33 am | Reply
  78. sporting goods near me

    June 5, 2021 at 1:35 am | Reply
  79. Sprinter Black Death Repair

    You've made some good points there. I checked on the internet for more information about the issue and found most people will go along with your views on this website.

    June 5, 2021 at 1:31 am | Reply
  80. RV Service Repair Near Me

    This website was... how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I've found something that helped me. Thanks a lot!

    June 5, 2021 at 1:20 am | Reply
  81. Content Marketing Agencies

    June 5, 2021 at 12:33 am | Reply
  82. cialis generic

    generic tadalafil from uk buy cialis online tadalafil daily online

    June 4, 2021 at 6:55 pm | Reply
  83. wesestotte

    erectile health news loonee erectile dysfunction medications
    erectile rehabilitation program Theotte erectile fissure
    erectile gel Bribly erectile jelly

    June 4, 2021 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  84. clozapine

    hydroxyquine medication aralen hydrochloride hydroxyclorine

    June 4, 2021 at 5:34 pm | Reply
  85. rv painters

    June 4, 2021 at 5:22 pm | Reply
  86. 2500 Sprinter Van Repair

    June 4, 2021 at 2:30 pm | Reply
  87. Sprinter Rv Repair Near Here

    I blog quite often and I seriously thank you for your content. The article has truly peaked my interest. I am going to bookmark your blog and keep checking for new information about once per week. I subscribed to your Feed as well.

    June 4, 2021 at 1:24 pm | Reply
  88. poke near me

    June 4, 2021 at 1:06 pm | Reply
  89. 3.0 Sprinter Vacuum Pump Repair

    Great info. Lucky me I discovered your blog by accident (stumbleupon). I've bookmarked it for later!

    June 4, 2021 at 1:02 pm | Reply
  90. wesestotte

    fast acting erectile pills loonee does erectile dysfunction ever go away
    erectile assistance Theotte tens 7000 erectile
    erectile over the counter products Bribly best erectile medication

    June 4, 2021 at 10:08 am | Reply
  91. safeco windshield repair

    I was able to find good info from your blog articles.

    June 4, 2021 at 9:32 am | Reply
  92. Fiberglass Van Roof Repair

    Greetings! Very useful advice within this article! It is the little changes that produce the most significant changes. Thanks for sharing!

    June 4, 2021 at 4:08 am | Reply
  93. wesestotte

    can erectile dysfunction be mental loonee do erectile pills work
    erectile dysfunction injections Theotte can erectile dysfunction be healed
    does erectile dysfunction cause infertility Bribly erectile assistance

    June 4, 2021 at 1:55 am | Reply
  94. cigar shop near me

    Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon everyday. It will always be helpful to read content from other writers and use something from other websites.

    June 4, 2021 at 1:53 am | Reply
  95. Mercedes Sprinter Refrigerater Repair

    June 4, 2021 at 1:53 am | Reply
  96. collision experts fargo

    June 4, 2021 at 1:52 am | Reply
  97. SEO Marketing Agencies

    June 4, 2021 at 1:48 am | Reply
  98. trailer parts orange county

    This is the perfect site for anyone who would like to understand this topic. You know so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually will need toÖHaHa). You certainly put a new spin on a subject which has been written about for a long time. Great stuff, just excellent!

    June 4, 2021 at 1:45 am | Reply
  99. Sprinter Calliper Repair

    I was able to find good advice from your blog posts.

    June 4, 2021 at 12:08 am | Reply
  100. Video Marketing Agencies

    I seriously love your site.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you develop this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as Iím hoping to create my own website and would like to know where you got this from or what the theme is called. Thank you!

    June 3, 2021 at 11:00 pm | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Leave a Reply to Nick


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.