DOJ Memo: Obama Administration Claims Broader Authority To Kill Americans

PresObamaWe have previously discussed the President’s “kill list” policy under which Obama claims the right to be able to kill any American based on his sole judgment and discretion. A confidential Justice Department memo now sheds more light on that policy and states a broader basis for such killings than previously suggested by the Administration. It is also not clear why this memo was kept secret by the Administration since it deals only with legal interpretations — not classified operational information.

Last March, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared at the Northwestern University Law School to present the new policy, claiming that the President did not need any conviction or even a charge to kill an American citizen. While he stressed that this was based on a rationale that the citizen posed “an imminent threat of violent attack,” I noted at the time that any such limitation was purely discretionary under the theory of executive power being advanced by the Obama Administration.

It now appears that the Administration lawyers reached the same conclusion. The memo notes that there does not need to be an imminent attack in terms of an unfolding plan or operation: “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.”

In plain language, that means that the President considers the citizens to be a threat in the future. Moreover, the memo allows killings when an attempt to capture the person would pose an “undue risk” to U.S. personnel. That undue risk is left undefined.

The memo, entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qa’ida or An Associated Force,” is a tour de force of an imperial presidency. It was provided previously to both Democratic and Republican members of Congress on the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees. However, those members did nothing to stop such an extreme assertion of unilateral presidential power or to alert the public that the president was claiming far greater latitude in ordering the killings of citizens.

In an Orwellian twist, the memo insists “A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination.” It is more like a very pointed expression of presidential displeasure.

Here is the memo: 020413_DOJ_White_Paper

Source: NBC

395 thoughts on “DOJ Memo: Obama Administration Claims Broader Authority To Kill Americans

  1. Malisha 1, March 14, 2013 at 5:27 pm
    ————————————————-
    Sometimes they just follow you around.

  2. weird 3 times tried to post, only one link, no expletives but refused to take so I wont put in link and see what happens.
    In Pa they are going to be flying drones over military base near Harrisburg. They say no surveillance but how would we know for sure?
    Sad, they have made us paranoid even when it may not be appropriate but how are we to know when it is and when it isn’t?

    • In the past couple of years there were reports that the communication signals from the drones used only light weight commercial encryption so the bad guys could tune in and see the same thing our troops were seeing.

      Perhaps you should talk to some of your ham radio hacker friends and ask them what the drones are doing up there anyway.

      Actually I think the discussion of the drones misses the point.

      I am far more concerned with an executive that claims the legal power to assassinate anyone – with the wild expansive definition of imminent threat that this administration uses.

      Privacy also seems to be a real issue to me. But again discussion of drones misses the point.

      The state claims the power to monitor essentially every move and action. A few years ago Washington DC had several thousand cameras that could be controlled and monitored from a central command post. It hardly matters whether it is a drone of a highway speed camera or a building security camera – if it is impossible to escape the gaze of the photoelectric sensor.

      Citizens have a legitimate interest in being able to conduct their day to day affairs without being under surveillance – especially surveillance that is essentially unaccountable.

      But that expectation and right will pass if citizens do not speak up.

  3. Citizens have a legitimate interest in being able to conduct their day to day affairs without being under surveillance – especially surveillance that is essentially unaccountable.

    But that expectation and right will pass if citizens do not speak up. -bigfatmike

    How right you are.

  4. ACLU Press Release

    DC Appeals Court Rejects CIA’s Secrecy Claims in ACLU’s Targeted Killing FOIA Lawsuit

    Court Rules that CIA Cannot Deny “Interest” in Drone Program

    http://www.aclu.org/national-security/dc-appeals-court-rejects-cias-secrecy-claims-aclus-targeted-killing-foia-lawsuit

    March 15, 2013

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

    WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court ruled today that the Central Intelligence Agency cannot deny its “intelligence interest” in the targeted killing program and refuse to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests about the program while officials continue to make public statements about it.

    “This is an important victory. It requires the government to retire the absurd claim that the CIA’s interest in the targeted killing program is a secret, and it will make it more difficult for the government to deflect questions about the program’s scope and legal basis,” said ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who argued the case before a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Appeals Court in September. “It also means that the CIA will have to explain what records it is withholding, and on what grounds it is withholding them.”

    The ACLU’s FOIA request, filed in January 2010, seeks to learn when, where, and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how and whether the U.S. ensures compliance with international law restricting extrajudicial killings. In September 2011, the district court granted the government’s request to dismiss the case, accepting the CIA’s argument that it could not release any documents because even acknowledging the existence of the program would harm national security. The ACLU filed its appeal brief in the case exactly one year ago, and today the appeals court reversed the lower court’s ruling in a 3-0 vote.

    “We hope that this ruling will encourage the Obama administration to fundamentally reconsider the secrecy surrounding the targeted killing program,” Jaffer said. “The program has already been responsible for the deaths of more than 4,000 people in an unknown number of countries. The public surely has a right to know who the government is killing, and why, and in which countries, and on whose orders. The Obama administration, which has repeatedly acknowledged the importance of government transparency, should give the public the information it needs in order to fully evaluate the wisdom and lawfulness of the government’s policies.”

    Today’s ruling is at: aclu.org/national-security/drone-foia-appeals-court-ruling

  5. anonymously posted 1, March 15, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    The public surely has a right to know who the government is killing, and why, and in which countries, and on whose orders. The Obama administration, which has repeatedly acknowledged the importance of government transparency, should give the public the information it needs in order to fully evaluate the wisdom and lawfulness of the government’s policies.”
    ———–
    Banksters. Too big to fail and too big to jail. So says who? The Obama administration. What are they afraid of?

  6. Banksters. Too big to fail and too big to jail. So says who? The Obama administration. What are they afraid of? -Matt Johnson

    (Just to be clear, that was at statement by the ACLU, with whom I happen to agree.)

    With regard to the bankers? No one is too big to jail — it’s just an excuse.

    Jamie Dimon Email Directly Ties JPMorgan CEO To $6.2 Billion Fiasco

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/15/jamie-dimon-email-jpmorgan-ceo-ties-loss_n_2883012.html?1363361656

  7. Victory in Court: CIA Can No Longer Refuse to “Confirm or Deny” on Drones

    By Brett Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 1:48pm

    March 15, 2013

    http://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security/victory-court-cia-can-no-longer-refuse-confirm-or-deny-drones

    Posting:

    “In an important victory for transparency, a federal appeals court today put an end to the CIA’s absurd claims that it “cannot confirm or deny” whether it has information about the government’s use of drones to carry out targeted killings.

    In a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU, the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “it is neither logical nor plausible for the CIA to maintain that it would reveal anything not already in the public domain to say that the Agency” had a so-called “intelligence interest.” The ruling affirms the public’s right to understand and evaluate the government’s defense of the program with information that goes beyond what has been provided through the government’s own selective leaks and disclosures.

    As ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who argued the case before in September, said today:

    This is an important victory. It requires the government to retire the absurd claim that the CIA’s interest in the targeted killing program is a secret, and it will make it more difficult for the government to deflect questions about the program’s scope and legal basis. It also means that the CIA will have to explain what records it is withholding, and on what grounds it is withholding them.

    The court firmly rejected the CIA’s claims to secrecy about drones, writing that it “beggars belief” that the Agency does not possess documents relating to the government’s drone program. Those claims have proved to be increasingly divorced from reality over the months since the oral argument in the case. In February, the chairpersons of both congressional intelligence committees confirmed that they conduct oversight of CIA drone strikes. Also last month, the CIA’s new director, John O. Brennan, discussed the government’s killing program at length during his Senate confirmation hearings.

    It’s no wonder, then, that the D.C. Circuit refused to abide the CIA’s request that the courts “give their imprimatur to a fiction of deniability that no reasonable person would regard as plausible.”

    Perhaps most importantly, today’s ruling sends a clear message to the Obama administration that it must fundamentally reconsider its position regarding the alleged secrecy of its targeted killing program. As Jaffer put it, “The public surely has a right to know who the government is killing, and why, and in which countries, and on whose orders.”

    With its preposterous secrecy claim now unavailable to it in court, the administration should move quickly to make public the information the American public is entitled to see.”

  8. anonymously posted 1, March 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Politics. Does he want to be President? There is no rule of law when the Executive branch is free to so whatever they want.

    The Supreme Court. Since when is forced purchase of health care insurance a tax? I still think he’s a talking head piece of shi+ Write a book.

  9. Matt Johnson 1, April 10, 2013 at 10:54 am

    How much money do I get if I write a book? I want a trillion dollars.

    I wrote one and don’t get a lot, gotta be a Stephen King or Rowling to get the big bucks. ):

  10. Obama’s drone war kills ‘others,’ not just al Qaida leaders

    By Jonathan S. Landay | McClatchy Newspapers

    WASHINGTON — Contrary to assurances it has deployed U.S. drones only against known senior leaders of al Qaida and allied groups, the Obama administration has targeted and killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified “other” militants in scores of strikes in Pakistan’s rugged tribal area, classified U.S. intelligence reports show.

    The administration has said that strikes by the CIA’s missile-firing Predator and Reaper drones are authorized only against “specific senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces” involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks who are plotting “imminent” violent attacks on Americans.

    “It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative,” President Barack Obama said in a Sept. 6, 2012, interview with CNN. “It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”

    Copies of the top-secret U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy, however, show that drone strikes in Pakistan over a four-year period didn’t adhere to those standards.

    Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/04/09/188062/obamas-drone-war-kills-others.html#storylink=cpy

  11. Did Declan Walsh Get Expelled from Pakistan because He Provided Drone Cover for Brennan’s Confirmation?

    Posted on May 13, 2013 by emptywheel

    http://www.emptywheel.net/2013/05/13/did-declan-walsh-get-expelled-from-pakistan-because-he-provided-drone-cover-for-brennans-confirmation/#comments

    For the moment, I don’t know what to make of all this: the claim these stories are what got Walsh expelled (and the possibility I’ve got the wrong stories), the timing of the stories themselves, and the timing of Walsh’s expulsion just before Pakistan’s election would bring a drone skeptic, Nawaz Sharif, to power (all of which was made more interesting by Pervez Musharraf’s acknowledgment he had approved drone strikes in the interim). Even if (as appears to be one possibility) the Pakistani security establishment expelled Walsh because he forced them to deny the drones just as the legal landscape made their approval for them more dicey, why now?

    Was it because the court ruling, issued on May 9, made it much more dangerous to have someone who’d inject such accusations into Pakistani public debates, leading to his expulsion on May 10? Does Pakistan’s military establishment believe such stories might put them at legal risk for approving of our illegal strikes?

    It’s funny, though. The possibility that Walsh got expelled because he provided coverage of potentially false claims made to help John Brennan get confirmed to head the drone program in Pakistan (and elsewhere) makes me wonder whose democracy is more dysfunctional at this point, which country is lying more to its people.

    End of excerpt

    Repeating:

    “The possibility that Walsh got expelled because he provided coverage of potentially false claims … makes me wonder whose democracy is more dysfunctional at this point, which country is lying more to its people.”

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