Obama lawyers' memo sets out case in which US citizens can be killed

Wed, Feb 6, 2013, 00:00

The detailed circumstances in which a US government may order the killing of an American citizen who is a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda have been revealed in a leaked memo prepared by Obama administration lawyers.

The document, acquired by NBC and dating from 2011, lays out for the first time the precise rationale for carrying out targeted killings of senior al-Qaeda members who are US citizens, and who are believed to pose an “imminent threat of violent attack” against the US.

Although the white paper deals specifically with the issue of when and how the president can order the killing of a US citizen who is a member of alQaeda, it also provides one of the most comprehensive accounts of the wider international legal framework the US believes supports its controversial drones policy.

Although the paper does not specify the “minimum legal requirements” for launching such an operation, it insists the killing would be constitutionally justified as the US is engaged in an “armed conflict”, as defined by international law and authorised by Congress, with al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

In a key passage the document argues that for a US citizen who has rights under due process and the fourth amendment, “that individual’s citizenship would not immunise from a lethal operation”.

The paper concludes: “Where certain circumstances are met, a lethal operation against a US citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qaeda . . . and who himself poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States, would not violate the constitution.”

The leaking of the documents came as 11 senators wrote to Mr Obama requesting the disclosure of all legal opinions authorising the killing of Americans. The question of the constitutionality of such operations emerged after the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US- born radical Muslim cleric, in a drone strike in Yemen in September 2011.