A secret 16-page U.S. Department of Justice “white paper” was recently leaked that detailed the Obama administration’s legal justification to target American citizens for assassination by drone strikes overseas.
Michael Isikoff from NBC News reported Monday on an unclassified Justice Department memo that concluded “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 memo said it is legal for the U.S. government to kill a U.S. citizen overseas if he or she is suspected of being a leader or “associated force” of al-Qaida, as long as the following three conditions were met:
An informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the American “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States”;
Capture is not possible, and the United States “continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible”; and
The operation would be carried out according to “applicable law of war principles.”
The memo offered the legal justification behind the drone attacks that killed Anwar-al-Awlaki and Samir Khan in September 2011, Isikoff reported.
Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, has sued the Obama administration to obtain documents outlining such justification.
“This is a chilling document,” Jaffer told NBC. “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.”
In another article, “Someone Just Leaked Obama’s Rules for Assassinating American Citizens,” Reason 24/7 said other civil liberty groups and journalists have been asking to see “internal memoranda” from the White House over the “targeted killing program” for quite some time, but that the “White House continues to deny that such memos exist.” Some senators saw a Department of Justice white paper in June Reason 24/7 reported.
NBC did not say how it obtained the memo. But, interestingly, the hacker-activist group Anonymous tweeted the Reason 24/7 article Monday night. You may recall in a story I posted on Jan. 26, I recounted how Anonymous had taken over the Justice Department’s Sentencing Commission website, “threatening to release private Justice Department data to ‘avenge’ the suicide of Reddit co-founder, RSS developer and Internet activist, Aaron Swartz.”
Could Anonymous have been referring to this same memo?