Memo backs U.S. using lethal force against Americans overseas
Anwar al-Awlaki died in a September 2011 drone strike in Yemen.
February 5th, 2013
10:18 AM ET

Memo backs U.S. using lethal force against Americans overseas

By Pam Benson

A Justice Department memo determined the U.S. government can use lethal force against an American citizen overseas if the person is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or one of its affiliates.

The paper provides insights into the Obama administration's policy of targeted killings carried out by the use of drone strikes against suspected terrorists. Several of those strikes have killed Americans, notably Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni American who had been connected to plots against the United States but never charged with a crime. Awlaki died in a drone attack in September 2011 in Yemen.

The 16-page white paper - titled "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qaida or an Associated Force" - is a policy paper rather than an official legal document.

NBC News first reported on the contents of the memo, which was given to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees last June.  A congressional source verified the document's legitimacy to CNN.

WATCH: CNN's Christiane Amanpour interviews Anwar al-Awlaki's father 

The paper states that although U.S. citizens abroad retain their constitutional rights to due process, the U.S. government can use lethal force against a citizen under the following circumstances: "1) where an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; 2) where a capture operation would be infeasible - and where those conducting the operation continue to monitor whether capture becomes feasible; and 3) where such an operation would be conducted consistent with applicable law of war principles."

But the document also says the government is not required "to have clear evidence" that an attack against the United States will occur in the immediate future to determine that an imminent threat is posed by a U.S. citizen.

The memo cites both congressional authorization and judicial approval for the use of military force to counter the threat of terrorist attack by all individuals.

The Supreme Court has held that the military may constitutionally use force against a U.S. citizen who is a part of enemy forces.

The document dismisses arguments by commentators that the war against al Qaeda cannot extend outside of Afghanistan, and asserts, "the United States retains its authority to use force against al-Qaida and associated forces outside the area of active hostilities when it targets a senior operational leader of the enemy force who is actively engaged in planning operations to kill Americans."

The American Civil Liberties Union called the document "profoundly disturbing."

Hina Shamsi, the director of the ACLU's National Security Project, said, "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 called on the Obama administration to release the 50-page legal memo on which the White Paper is based.

A bipartisan group of senators has also called for the administration to release its legal opinions on presidential authority.

In a letter to the president on Monday, the 11 senators said, "It is vitally important, however, for the Congress and the American public to have a full understanding of how the executive branch interprets the limits and boundaries of this authority so that Congress and the public can decide whether this authority has been properly defined and whether the president's power to deliberately kill American citizens is subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards."

The letter is signed by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, Mark Udall, D-Colorado, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, of the Intelligence Committee as well as Mike Lee, R-Utah; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon; Dick Durbin, D-Illinois; Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont; Tom Udall, D-New Mexico; Mark Begich, D-Alaska; and Al Franken, D-Minnesota.

The request comes just days before the confirmation hearing of John Brennan to become director of the CIA. Brennan, who has served as the president's top counterterrorism adviser, is considered to be behind the administration's dramatic rise in the use of targeted killings.

He is expected to be grilled on the policy during his hearing Thursday.

Post by:
Filed under: Anwar al-Awlaki • drones • Terrorism • Yemen
soundoff (517 Responses)
  1. pharmaceptica

    erectile rehabilitation https://pharmaceptica.com/

    June 26, 2021 at 11:02 pm | Reply
  2. pharmaceptica.com

    hcq 200 https://pharmaceptica.com/

    June 22, 2021 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  3. Simon Hutching

    Have you ever heard of second life (sl for short). It is essentially a game where you can do anything you want. SL is literally my second life (pun intended lol). If you want to see more you can see these Second Life articles and blogs

    http://lostbiro.com/blog/?paged=103

    June 21, 2021 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  4. Terrell Danziger

    Have you ever heard of second life (sl for short). It is essentially a video game where you can do anything you want. SL is literally my second life (pun intended lol). If you want to see more you can see these Second Life articles and blogs

    http://thisteachinglife.blogspot.com/2007/03/walking-streets-of-cyberia.html

    June 18, 2021 at 11:49 am | Reply
  5. Derrick Kownacki

    Have you ever heard of second life (sl for short). It is basically a video game where you can do anything you want. Second life is literally my second life (pun intended lol). If you want to see more you can see these second life websites and blogs

    http://everydayliteracies.blogspot.com/2013/01/aaron-swartzs-afterword-to-cory.html

    June 18, 2021 at 10:18 am | Reply
  6. Asuncion Ack

    Have you ever heard of second life (sl for short). It is essentially a video game where you can do anything you want. Second life is literally my second life (pun intended lol). If you would like to see more you can see these second life articles and blogs

    http://amusingspace.blogspot.com/2009/07/funny-little-slideshare-on-inherent.html

    June 15, 2021 at 4:05 am | Reply
  7. Micah Goldbaum

    I don't know about you guys but I am obsessed with airplanes. I have a friend in highschool that loves airplanes, so here are some airplane related stuff I don't know about you guys but I love airplanes. I had a friend in highschool that loved airplanes, so here are some airplane related stuff https://www.airlinereporter.com/2009/08/livery-of-the-week-cubana-airlines/

    http://everydayliteracies.blogspot.com/2014/09/looking-for-job-in-inclusive-elementary.html?showComment=1495434048061

    June 13, 2021 at 5:45 pm | Reply
  8. Shayna Honhart

    I don't know about you guys but I love airplanes. I have a friend in highschool that loved airplanes, so here are some airplane related stuff I don't know about you guys but I love airplanes. I had a friend in highschool that loved airplanes, so here are some airplane related stuff https://www.airlinereporter.com/2009/08/livery-of-the-week-rak-airways/

    http://myvedana.blogspot.com/2008/01/muffin-prophecy.html?m=0

    June 13, 2021 at 4:09 pm | Reply
  9. Jani Brockenberry

    I don't know about you people but I love airplanes. I had a friend in highschool that loves airplanes, so here are some airplane related stuff I don't know about you guys but I love airplanes. I had a friend in highschool that loved airplanes, so here are some airplane related stuff https://www.airlinereporter.com/2011/01/airline-livery-of-the-week-china-airlines-with-boeing-livery/

    http://privatejetstoday.blogspot.com/2010/08/private-jet-flight-attendant-jobs.html

    June 13, 2021 at 3:09 am | Reply
  10. Meridith Teroganesyan

    Have you ever heard of second life (sl for short). It is essentially a game where you can do anything you want. Second life is literally my second life (pun intended lol). If you want to see more you can see these Second Life articles and blogs

    http://thisteachinglife.blogspot.com/2005/10/maths-teachers-are-failing-too.html

    June 12, 2021 at 4:36 pm | Reply
  11. Boyce Sehl

    This was awesome! I would like you to clean up all this spam though

    https://www.linkedin.com/in/yusufhanafy

    June 9, 2021 at 8:27 am | Reply
  12. Jenette Bartee

    This was awesome! I would like you to clean up all this spam though

    https://www.linkedin.com/in/yusufhanafy

    June 7, 2021 at 6:04 am | Reply
  13. chloroquine phosphate

    hydroxichlorine hidroxicloroquina hydro clore quinn

    June 6, 2021 at 3:50 pm | Reply
  14. Darwin Swanston

    This was awesome! I would like you to clean up all this spam though

    https://www.linkedin.com/in/yusufhanafy

    June 6, 2021 at 3:35 am | Reply
  15. cialis generic

    tadalafil pah cialis taldenafil

    June 5, 2021 at 1:28 pm | Reply
  16. buy chloroquine online canada

    side effect of hydroxychloroquine clonidine hydrochloride hydroxychloroquine tablet

    June 5, 2021 at 11:03 am | Reply
  17. tadalafil side effects

    what is vidalista tadalafil liquid tadalafil use

    June 5, 2021 at 9:54 am | Reply
  18. tadalafil daily online

    buy tadalafil powder tadalafil drug side effects of tadalafil

    June 3, 2021 at 6:33 am | Reply
  19. Donny Mayberry

    Have you ever heard of second life (sl for short). It is essentially a video game where you can do anything you want. sl is literally my second life (pun intended lol). If you want to see more you can see these Second Life websites and blogs

    http://everydayliteracies.blogspot.com/2013/04/scribbles-on-scribdcom.html?showComment=1367442679728

    May 31, 2021 at 3:23 am | Reply
1 2 3

Leave a Reply to Matt


 

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.