A U.S. Department of Justice white paper on targeted drone strikes, obtained and released by NBC’s Michael Isikoff, outlines the Obama administration’s guidelines for a lawful strike on an American citizen overseas. This memo is likely the administration’s justification behind increased drone strikes in places like Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
The first few lines of the memo are somewhat startling in their straightforwardness, but the memo goes to extensive lengths to point out the legal precedent justifying its assertions.
‘This white paper sets forth a legal framework for considering the circumstances in which the U.S. government could use lethal force in a foreign country outside the area of active hostilities against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force…”
Though the memo continues by outlining clearly that only senior leaders of al-Qa’ida or an affiliated force can be considered fair game, it seemingly contradicts the fifth amendment later in the memo. Yet, the memo asserts that it is in fact congruent with the fifth amendment:
“Were the target of a lethal operation a U.S. citizen who may have rights under the Due Process Clause… that individual’s citizenship would not immunize him from a lethal operation.”
In other words, even if due process is a guaranteed right under the constitution, it actually isn’t guaranteed to everyone because the U.S. has an obligation to protect other citizens. Tweet
The memo justifies the president’s authority in the second paragraph, saying:
“The President has authority to respond to the imminent threat posed by al-Qa’ida and its associated forces, arising from his constitutional responsibility to protect the country, the inherent right of the United States to national self defense under international law, Congress’s authorization of the use of all necessary and appropriate military force against the enemy, and the existence of an armed conflict with al-Qa’ida under international law.” Tweet quote: Tweet
This memo then begs various significant legal questions, none of which have been answered in court. The severe legal and moral implications of such ideas surely require more scrutiny than one legal memorandum.