A Justice Department memo determined the U.S. government can use lethal force against an American citizen overseas if the person is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or one of its affiliates, according to a document posted on the NBC News website.
The paper provides insights into the Obama administration's policy of targeted killings carried out by the use of drone strikes against suspected terrorists. Several of those strikes have killed Americans, notably Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni American who had been connected to plots against the United States but never charged with a crime. Awlaki died in a drone attack in September 2011 in Yemen.
The 16-page white paper - titled "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qaida or an Associated Force" - is a policy paper rather than an official legal document.
The reservations one should have about this are numerous and obvious: American citizens deserve due process and this opinion doesn't even provide for any legal oversight whatsoever. That right there opens a rather large can of worms.
And of course, other nations' sovereignty, the idea of assassinating anyone else on foreign soil...as I said, a whole raft of issues.
And yet, I can't completely oppose the measure, at least based on the memo that has been leaked.
It appears that proper diligence has been used to be outline that an "imminent threat" exists from an American citizen who has all but repudiated his American citizenship. "Turned traitor," we used to call it. Also, due care must be exercised and attempts to capture this citizen for judicial process must be exhausted first and war conventions observed.
Yes, I know, it's lip service without judicial oversight, to be sure.
The Supreme Court has already acknowledged that due process does not apply to an American citizen who has joined opposition forces actively engaged militarily against us and much of this seems to fall under those and other guideliness the courts have already established.
Yes, there is danger of over-reach, to be sure, and I'm troubled mostly by the lack of oversight in real time (I have no doubt there will be plenty of oversight in arrears from Congress and the courts.)
But a lot of the case I'm reading against this policy seems to me to fall into nearly the same categories that rightwing gun nuts use to justify assault weapons: hypothetical cases of heavy-handed government bearing down on its citizenry, when in point of fact, the number of people this policy has affected so far number in the single digits and most of those have actively repudiated any reasonable measure of citizenry or fealty to the US.
Still, this is worth keeping an eye on.