This week, a bipartisan group of 11 senators asked President Barack Obama for all legal opinions underlying the authority to kill American citizens. The newly disclosed Justice Department document, first reported by NBC News on Monday night, represents an unclassified summary of those legal opinions and may have been prepared to deflect demands to see the actual classified legal opinions.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that her panel received the unclassified document, and others, from the administration in June 2012 on a confidential basis. She said this document, coupled with other documents and closed briefings, “has allowed the Intelligence Committee to conduct appropriate and probing oversight into the use of lethal force.”
In a speech last March, Attorney General Eric Holder said that in assessing when a targeted killing against a U.S. citizen is legal, the government must determine after careful review that a citizen poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the U.S. Brennan had made a similar speech justifying the strikes as self-defense against imminent threat of attack.
Asked Tuesday about the definition of “imminent threat” at a news conference on an unrelated topic, Holder said that “so many of these things are fact-based” and that “you can’t examine the terms without reference to the facts.” He said such details can be discussed only in a classified setting.
“Our primary concern is to keep the American people safe, but do so in a way that is consistent with our law and our values,” Holder said.
This must be the values he’s talking about. Your tax dollars at work: “acceptable collateral drone strike damage”… No iconic presidential fake tear shedding for the cover of Time Magazine, there are no photo ops here. Madeline Albright admitted publicly that even by as far back as the Clinton era, they’d already exterminated at least 500,000 innocent Middle-Eastern children such as this in illegal wars based on lies and propaganda… a genocide campaign.
But the confidential Justice Department “white paper” introduces a more expansive definition of self-defense or imminent attack than described by Brennan or Holder in their public speeches. It refers, for example, to what it calls a “broader concept of imminence” than actual intelligence about any ongoing plot against the U.S. homeland.
“The condition that an operational leader presents an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo states.
The white paper also includes a more extensive discussion of why targeted strikes against Americans does not violate constitutional protections afforded American citizens as well as a U.S. law that criminalizes the killing of U.S. nationals overseas. It also discusses why such targeted killings would not be a war crime or violate a U.S. executive order banning assassinations.
“A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination,” the white paper reads. “In the Department’s view, a lethal operation conducted against a U.S. citizen whose conduct poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States would be a legitimate act of national self-defense that would not violate the assassination ban. Similarly, the use of lethal force, consistent with the laws of war, against an individual who is a legitimate military target would be lawful and would not violate the assassination ban.”
The document says that the use of lethal force would not violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution when a targeted person is an operational leader of an enemy force and an informed, high-level government official has determined that he poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the U.S., and that the courts have no role to play in the matter.
“Under the circumstances described in this paper, there exists no appropriate judicial forum to evaluate these constitutional considerations. It is well established that ‘matters intimately related to foreign policy, and national security are rarely proper subjects for judicial intervention,'” the document said.
The Justice memo says that delaying action against U.S. citizens who are linked to al-Qaida would create an unacceptably high risk because some al-Qaida leaders are continually plotting attacks on the U.S. and the U.S. may not always be aware of each specific plot as they develop.
The Justice memo does require that capture of a terrorist suspect not be feasible and that any such lethal operation by the United States targeting a person comply with fundamental law-of-war principles.
“A decision maker determining whether an al-Qaida operational leader presents an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States must take into account that certain members of Al-Qaida … are continually plotting attacks against the United States” and that “al-Qaida would engage in such attacks regularly to the extent it were able to do so,” says the document.
The document also says that a decision maker must take into account that “the U.S. government may not be aware of all al-Qaida plots as they are developing and thus cannot be confident that none is about to occur; and that … the nation may have a limited window of opportunity within which to strike in a manner that both has a high likelihood of success and reduces the probability of American casualties.”
With this understanding, the document added, a high-level official could conclude, for example, that an individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States where he is an operational leader of al-Qaida or an associated force and is personally and continually involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the document is “profoundly disturbing.”
“It’s hard to believe that it was produced in a democracy built on a system of checks and balances,” the ACLU said. (Sources: Michael Isikoff, NBCNews.com)