US Memo Gives Broad Legal Rationale for Targeted Killings



US memo gives broad legal rationale for targeted killings (via AFP)

A newly revealed Justice Department memo finds that US citizens believed to be senior Al-Qaeda operators may lawfully be killed, even if no intelligence shows they are actively plotting an attack. The disclosure by NBC News, which posted a link to the white paper on its web page, comes amid rising…



Author: Guest Voice

Share This Post On

12 Comments

  1. When you is in then you do what you want and let the ones on the out bitch and moan. Don’t make it right and I am more concerned about wedding parties and girls collecting firewood than killing someone who has renounced his country and is a traitor.
    I am surprised that the Reps have not made a bigger deal out of it since the Dems would have been ballistic if Bush had been the first to do it. (I’m picturing a Senator Obama making a fine speech deploring the “murders” of U.S. citizens.)

  2. Brennan is coming up for confirmation. Expect all the pros and cons, including all the exaggerations, to show up. Drones have been used to take out al Quaida leaders since 2008; we just weren’t aware of it.

    This thread is about taking out American citizens and I understand the principle of constitutional freedom of speech, but not the boundries. When actons are involved, I would think speech freedom is compromised. Those that believe a citizen must be able to answer charges will have to explain how to capture and try one in this situation. What is the moral imperative of risking the lives of CIA or military personnel in the capture for trial of American leaders of al Qaida? I suppose if we were smart enough and lucky enough we could pull off an ARGO type operation, but I seriously doubt it.

    It seems al Awlaki fit the definition of treason and could be tried in absentia, but I’m not a constitutional scholar.

  3. While the precedent of fast-tracked drone-strikes is bothersome, whether under this administration or another, I do understand the practical nature of needing to act on intelligence (i.e. take out an al Qaeda operative who has popped up “on the radar” who ALSO happens to hold a US citizenship).

    Perhaps a legal avenue needs to be provided such that within an hour the evidence can be presented by CIA/FBI to a judicial authority that can sign off on an assassination(?).

    I am not a constitutional expert by any means, but it seems we ought to be able to find a way to make an attempt at “due process” while also understanding that courts do not work at the speed of actionable intelligence.

    Sure, there is a “slippery-slope” element to this, but if we implement the proper checks and balances we can avoid the Orwellian predictions of the state casually assassinating anyone who disagrees with it.

  4. I’m not sure it even is a case of assassination per se. I mean, is there any significant difference over what’s going on with the drones when compared to a hypothetical American Nazi sympathizer in Germany during WW2 who gets taken out during a B-17 bombing run?

  5. To give the devil his due, even as an Obama supporter who is troubled by the loss of innocent civilian lives, as a result of drone attacks, isn’t it significant that intelligence itself has already provided pretty solid evidence of terrorist activities and therefore terroristic threats against by Americans, and that the enemies guilt is all but given? Can’t such knowledge designate such a person as a definite threat even without completely through due process?

    An analogy might be how a police officer, observing a crowd at a political rally, may detect someone with a gun moving towards a speaker at the rally, and, determine that this person represents a definite threat—thereby justifying immediate defensive action—even without full due process. In such a case it would be silly to wait for a judge’s approval before firing. Similarly, when the US knows that someone is a dangerous terrorist, and the action needed to take them out must be swift, it would be silly to wait for the approval of a judge or court—since by that time the window of opportunity will have likely passed. If afterwards, the government is asked to substantiate the reasons such a person was considered an immediate threat, then perhaps it should be required to offer proof to a judge. But, even though civilians may be at risk, civilians are always at risk, even with the implementation of conventional types of warfare, and, it should be contingent only that, the government has good reason to take such a risk before later being required to provide a solid reason for the attack.

    Although I have always hated the “rendition” practices used by the Bush government in order to snatch suspects off of the street and whisk them away to be tortured without any of the rights involved in due process, I can almost understand the fears of Government officials that would enable them to rationalize this procedure. After 911 it was almost certain that we would eventually be vulnerable to an equally violent attack, and the government went to extremes which involved rationalizations for the use of force. Even the Bush administration was scared, and worried to death, about another such incident happening on their watch. Therefore their extreme actions are sort of understandable.

    What is happening now with drone attacks may differ in that targets are usually very well known to be terrorists while the practice of rendition used by the Bush Administration, may have been much more impulsively taken, and with much less actual evidence—at least after watching the great movie made on the subject, one gets the impression that very flimsy suspicions were often all that was required for a paranoid Bush government to persecute innocent people—including American citizens. Both actions are extreme and shocking, but perhaps the legal basis of Obama’s attacks involves less indefinite guesswork and better intelligence.

    I hate that our government is doing this, but perhaps the benefits are actually based on solid information. However, any government would be frightened by what might happen if they neglected to act on such solid intelligence in order to defend Americans!

  6. dd

    It’s the Progressives who are ballistic, now, and have been for a long time. I don’t envy Mr. Brennan his congressional hearing experience. It’s possible this is the beginning of the end of the War Powers Act, though whether that’s a good or a bad thing remains to be seen.

  7. Back when Barack Obama was little more than a twinkle in the eye of the national Democratic party, and the Bush administration was in full “whatever the President needs to do to combat terrorism is acceptable” mode, I tried to get a straight answer from supporters of that policy:

    If those powers (to detain terror suspects at will, spy on everyone including Americans, torture, send people to secret prisons, etc.) were handed over to a Democratic President – say, Hillary Clinton – would you still be supportive? If President Hillary had the authority to order people to be imprisoned, tortured, or even killed for no other reason than that her administration deemed them “terror suspects,” would you be comfortable with that?

    I never did get an answer.

    I think they didn’t seriously consider the possibility that a non-Republican would be sitting in the White House anytime in the near future, let alone a secretly Muslim Kenyan Marxist who had “palling around with terrorists” on his resume’.

  8. petew, said (in part): “isn’t it significant that intelligence itself has already provided pretty solid evidence”. I thought, WMD on Bush’s watch which I think was just faulty intelligence.
    I’m just glad that there are probably very few of these American guys, or gals (why be squeamish?), that these “rules” could apply to.

  9. Slippery slope warning. I cannot fault the CIA for killing an American that has turned terrorist, but I worry about where it may lead when an American citizen is deemed guilty without due process and then killed. Will this lead to DIA assassinations of American citizens living abroad without capture, extradition and due process of law as guaranteed within the constitution? Ask yourself; What if Nixon where president?

  10. dduck,

    Good point about the use of faulty intelligence. The only difference between Bush and Obama, in cases when they might use such questionable knowledge to excuse targeted killings, might be that the Bush Administration kept getting intelligence reports that could absolutely NOT substantiate the threats of WMDs, AT ALL! The basic response from the Bush Administration was, “Go back and find some!” Eventually they built a case involving yellow cake uranium and rods used to enrich such uranium, by relying on the questionable information gathered from an informant who was considered a very unreliable source, and who was generally regarded as a notorious story teller. In short, the intelligence people were told to concoct a story to justify a military invasion and they did.

    Perhaps the same sort of thing is happening with the Obama Administration. We won’t know because of the classified material involved, and perhaps only after another decade, might we know how decisions to use drone attacks were really made and justified. In any case, like EnKindle says, this is definitely a slippery slope and, as an Obama supporter, I would be much more comfortable if his Administration was either not making such hits, or at least, had a very clear justification to do so.

    No matter who or which party is in power, we cannot blindly trust any politician without making careful observations of our own. Then again, none of us knows exactly what a new President encounters during his first intelligence briefing, and, there may be some truth in Bush’s assertion that “we know more than you know,” and if we did, perhaps we too, would reluctantly approve of what is being done. In any case PBS has some excellent documentaries about the Iraq war and how it was justified. Check them out if you haven’t already.

  11. petew, I take a more jaded viewpoint. I think that this or any other president merely turns to his legal team and says write me a legal opinion to cover my ass on ______ .

  12. dduck,

    I’m sure it happens that way, and probably frequently, but the PBS documentary about the Iraq war is still notable because any President, potentially, may use his (or quite possibly, her power) in this way. I’m not saying Obama is above such a thing but, the bogus WMDs seems to stand out as an extremely brazen way of misusing power by lying!

Submit a Comment