A confidential Justice Department memo says the U.S. government has the right to order the killing of American citizens who are believed to be senior leaders of al-Qaida or "an associated force," according to an exclusive report from NBC News
The targeted killings are allowed even if there is no evidence of an active plot to attack the U.S., the 16-page memo said. The document sheds light on the legal reasoning behind killing American citizens in overseas drone strikes, one of the Obama administration's most controversial policies.
"The condition that an operational leader present 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.
A September 2011 drone attack in Yemen killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both U.S. citizens who had not been indicted by the U.S. government or charged with any crimes, NBC wrote.
"A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination," the memo says. But groups like the America Civil Liberties Union, which is suing to obtain documents related to drone attacks on U.S. citizens, slammed the memo.
"This is a chilling document," Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, told NBC. "Basically, it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen."
Via NBC News