Justice Department White Paper Details Rationale for Targeted Killing of Americans

February 4, 2013 10:21 pm

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Document Outlines Government’s Claimed Authority to Kill American Citizens Outside Combat Zones

February 4, 2013

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NEW YORK – A Justice Department white paper argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of American citizens that the government believes are affiliated with a terrorist organization, according to the document posted tonight on NBCNews.com. The white paper summarizes a memo prepared in 2010 by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to justify the targeting of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki.

“This is a profoundly disturbing document, and it’s hard to believe that it was produced in a democracy built on a system of checks and balances. It summarizes in cold legal terms a stunning overreach of executive authority – the claimed power to declare Americans a threat and kill them far from a recognized battlefield and without any judicial involvement before or after the fact,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.

“But this briefing paper is not a substitute for the 50-page legal memo on which it’s based. When the executive branch seeks to give itself the unilateral authority to kill its own citizens, a summary of its argument is no substitute for the argument itself. Among other things, we need to know if the limits the executive purports to impose on its killing authority are as loosely defined as in this summary, because if they are, they ultimately mean little. President Obama rightly released the Bush-era OLC torture memos and he should now hold his own administration to the same standard by releasing its killing memo,” Shamsi added.

Tomorrow, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights will file a court brief arguing against the government’s attempt to dismiss their lawsuit challenging the targeted killing of Al-Awlaki and two other Americans in Yemen in 2011, Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman and Samir Khan.

The OLC memo summarized by the white paper is one of the documents sought by the ACLU’s pending Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. That case was dismissed last month by a federal judge in New York, and last Friday the ACLU filed a notice of appeal. The government argued that the requested documents cannot be released, despite the fact that government officials have talked publicly on numerous occasions about Al-Awlaki’s killing and the targeted killing program in general.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is currently considering another FOIA lawsuit filed by the ACLU seeking other information on the U.S. targeted killing program, including its legal basis, scope, and number of civilian casualties caused by drone strikes. The court heard oral argument in September.

An in-depth analysis of the DOJ white paper in a blog post written by ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer is at:

Information on the ACLU’s targeted killing lawsuits is at:

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