NBC News has obtained a confidential document from the Justice Department that reveals the justification for targeted assassinations of American citizens, even without any evidence to suggest that a suspect is a terrorist or planning violence, a report published on Monday reveals.
The document, according to NBC, “concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be ‘senior operational leaders’ of al-Qaida or ‘an associated force’ -- even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.”
The main method of assassination is by drone strikes, which have caused outrage in the countries in which they’re used, such as Pakistan.
The Obama administration has drawn criticism from civil rights groups for claiming the authority to kill Americans without due process rights. NBC quotes Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, which is suing the federal government to obtain information about Obama’s “kill list”: “This is a chilling document. Basically, it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen. … It recognizes some limits on the authority it sets out, but the limits are elastic and vaguely defined, and it’s easy to see how they could be manipulated.”
In order to justify the assassination, the paper claims that the target has to be considered an “imminent threat.”
“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 document states.
So, who gets to determine what constitutes an imminent threat? Someone in the government, of course. According to NBC, “an ‘informed, high-level official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American has been ‘recently’ involved in ‘activities’ posing a threat of a violent attack and ‘there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.' The memo does not define ‘recently’ or ‘activities.’”
This isn’t good enough for Jaffer, who commented that the document “redefines the word imminence in a way that deprives the word of its ordinary meaning.”
Besides being an imminent threat, the document provides “a three-part test” to justify the assassination:
(C)apture of the target must be “infeasible, and the strike must be conducted according to “law of war principles.”…U.S. officials may consider whether an attempted capture of a suspect would pose an “undue risk” to U.S. personnel involved in such an operation. If so, U.S. officials could determine that the capture operation of the targeted American would not be feasible, making it lawful for the U.S. government to order a killing instead, the memo concludes.
Though the introduction to the document states that it applies to Americans in foreign countries, the Obama administration pushed for the clause in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2012 that permitted for permanent detention of anyone in the world, including Americans in the United States.
Though Obama said that he wouldn’t enforce the clause before signing the act into law, Sen. Carl Levin (D., Michigan), co-sponsor of the act, explained in a speech on the Senate floor last December that there was originally language in the act to protect Americans, but the Obama administration demanded that it be removed.
The language which precluded the application of Section 1031 to American citizens was in the bill that we originally approved…and the administration asked us to remove the language which says that U.S. citizens and lawful residents would not be subject to this section.
It was the administration that asked us to remove the very language which we had in the bill which passed the committee…we removed it at the request of the administration. It was the administration which asked us to remove the very language the absence of which is now objected to.
Even though the administration claims it can kill Americans for supporting al Qaida, the U.S. government continues to do just this in the Syrian war, and did the same in the Libyan conflict two years ago.