Memo Lays Out Legal Rationale for Drone Strike that Killed American Citizen

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

A 16-page memo (pdf) obtained by NBC News outlines the legal rationale for the killing of American citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki, an Al Qaeda operative. The memo is also the clearest statement yet of American policy on the use of drone aircraft. Awlaki was killed by an American drone strike in Yemen in September 2011.

According to Karen Greenberg,  the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University's School of Law, the memo affirms what many long have suspected: The Obama administration has adopted a broadened concept of what constitutes an "imminent threat" as it concerns American citizens involved in the war on terror. The memo states that it is not necessary for an attack to be in process when a target is found as long as the target is generally engaged in terrorist activities aimed at the United States. It goes on to say that in these cases the courts do not have the right to review or interfere with such decisions. 

"In the name of self-defense, the U.S. can act in a preemptive fashion without knowing about a particular target," argues Greenberg. "The problem is, who do you want to give these powers to? While the Obama administration trusts itself to be judicious in its temperament and its judgement, what about others who come along?" 

According to Greenberg, there are still unknowns about the document, which appears to be a briefing of the real, classified legal memorandum: "Are there threshold considerations in the longer memo? What exactly does qualify a person for killing an American citizen?" 

"The idea that process is taken off of the table is deeply disturbing," says Greenberg.


Karen Greenberg

Comments [5]

Angel from Miami, FL

Wow! I am totally amazed at how successful the fear machine has worked on Americans. The true worth of a drone is to locate enemy fighters so that we know where to send elite squads to surgically remove the enemy troops, reduce civilian deaths, and recover useful intelligence. But like our youth who are self-confined to dark rooms playing videogames we've settled for making an educated guess and dropping a bomb big enough to leave a crater. A YouTube video is our only debriefing.

US citizens now believe this is the way to go. Worse yet (and it is worse than killing) many of our citizens believe torture is exceptable. They don't see what it does to us. Those guys that do our dirty work are no different from serial killers. We hand them a modus operandi and give them license to practice it without fear of consequences. Normally we call people like that animals and we put them down. Nowadays we give them a paycheck.

There is an enemy out there. But unlike Jack Bauer, real people cannot teleport themselves to our doorsteps within the hour. Our hands should only get dirty from circumstance not strategy. The killer drones and torturers merely deliver more lost boys unto our enemies. It doesn't teach us anything nor allow us to show them another path. Ultimately, it will cause us to turn against ourselves.

Feb. 11 2013 10:41 AM
C curry

It's called murder without any justification for the drone strikes since the persons in question had not carried out any attacks on the United States of America. This sounds like Hitler and his tactics that lead to WWII.

Feb. 06 2013 08:32 AM
s Hargrove

If he/she is part of a terrorist group against can we possibly call them an "American citizen?" It's obvious from World news that terrorist groups are gaining ground on infiltrating other countries, unfortunatley hard choices have to be made to protect the innocent people of America.

Feb. 06 2013 07:54 AM

Speak for yourself. I'd rather die than be waterboarded. The journalists tried it for a few minutes, not hours or days.

Feb. 06 2013 07:41 AM from brooklyn

Greenberg apparently worships at the altar of Democrat. REALLY, torture is worse than murder. Numerous journalists had themselves waterboarded so they could write how torturous it was- which shows exactly how much it was NOT torture. I doubt any of these same journalists would volunteer to have their fingernails/eyes ripped out or be seared with a hot poker, true torture. No one would choose death over being water boarded.

Greenberg simply can not accept that by the standards leftists like her made for Bush, Obama is a war criminal.

Feb. 05 2013 10:36 AM

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