On February 5, 2013, Fox News reported that the White House and Justice Department adamantly defended the administration’s authority to use unmanned drones to kill terror operatives — even if those operatives are U.S. citizens — following the release of a memo on the program. Excerpts below:
Pressed repeatedly about the complicated constitutional and legal questions raised by the targeted killing of Americans, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that the president takes those issues “very seriously.”
But he noted that Al Qaeda is in a “state of war against us,” and defended what he described as “targeted strikes against specific Al Qaeda terrorists.”
“We conduct those strikes because they are necessary to mitigate ongoing actual threats, to stop plots, to prevent future attacks and to save American lives,” Carney said. “These strikes are legal, they are ethical and they are wise.”
A Justice Department official told Fox News there are at least three conditions that have to be met in order for a strike to be ordered — there has to be an “imminent” threat, the target has to have engaged in terrorist activities, and the target has to be unable to be captured.
Under Obama, the U.S. drone program has ramped up dramatically since the George W. Bush administration. It has become one of the most important tools in the administration’s counterterrorism campaign — particularly in Pakistan, but also in the expanding fronts of the war against Al Qaeda and its affiliates.
Scrutiny of the program follows a 2011 drone strike in Yemen that killed two Americans — Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. It marked the first time an American citizen was targeted for death by a U.S. president and killed in a drone strike.
…a Justice Department document surfaced in news reports describing the administration’s drone-attack authority.
As first reported Monday night by NBC News, the memo says it is legal for the government to kill U.S. citizens abroad if it believes they are senior Al Qaeda leaders continually engaged in operations aimed at killing Americans — even if there is no intelligence pointing to an active plot against America.
The 16-page document says that delaying action against individuals continually planning to kill Americans would create an unacceptably high risk. It adds that the threat posed by Al Qaeda and its associated forces demands a broader concept of when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat.