WASHINGTON An internal Justice Department memorandum says it is legal for the government to kill U.S. citizens abroad if it believes they are senior al-Qaida leaders continually engaged in operations aimed at killing Americans.
The document, reported Monday night by NBC News, provides a legal rationale behind the Obama administration’s use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects.
The 16-page document says it is lawful to target al-Qaida linked U.S. citizens if they pose an “imminent” threat of violent attack against Americans, and that delaying action against such people would create an unacceptably high risk. Such circumstances may necessitate expanding the concept of imminent threat, the memo says.
“The threat posed by al-Qaida and its associated forces demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat,” the document added.
A September 2011 drone strike in Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both U.S. citizens.
The memo does not require the U.S. to have information about a specific imminent attack against the U.S. But it 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.