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Can the President Kill an American Anywhere in the World? Drone Memo Raises Troubling Questions

The memo explains the Obama administration's legal reasoning for killing a US citizen in a 2011 drone attack.
 
 
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During a three month span in 2011, U.S. drones killed four American citizens overseas. On September 30, cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed in a drone strike in Yemen. Two weeks later, another U.S. drone killed Anwar’s 16-year-old son, Abdul-rahman, in Yemen. A month later, a U.S. citizen named Jude Kenan Mohammad was killed in Pakistan. For the past two-and-a-half years, the Obama administration has refused to release its legal rationale for killing American citizens overseas. That changed on Monday when a federal court released a heavily redacted 41-page memo. It concludes the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force gave the U.S. government the authority to target Anwar al-Awlaki, who the Obama administration claims had joined al-Qaeda. On Capitol Hill, Sen. Ron Wyden praised the release of the memo but said it raises many questions. Wyden asked, "How much evidence does the president need to determine that a particular American is a legitimate target for military action? Can the president strike an American anywhere in the world?" Questions also remain over when the United States can kill non-U.S. citizens. We speak to Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project.

AARON MATÉ: During a three-month span in 2011, U.S. drones killed four American citizens overseas. On Sept. 30th, cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed in a drone strike in Yemen. Two weeks later, another U.S. drone killed Anwar’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, in Yemen. A month later, a U.S. citizen named Jude Kenan Mohammad was killed in Pakistan.

For the past two-and-a-half years, the Obama administration has kept secret its legal rationale for killing American citizens overseas. That changed on Monday, when a federal court released a heavily redacted 41-page memo. It concludes the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force gave the U.S. government the authority to target Anwar al-Awlaki, who the Obama administration claims had joined al-Qaeda. The Justice Department memo states, quote, "We believe that the A.U.M.F.’s authority to use lethal force abroad also may apply in appropriate circumstances to a United States citizen who is part of the forces of an enemy."

AMY GOODMAN: The memo goes on say the U.S. could use lethal force against a U.S. citizen when high-level government officials have determined a capture operation is infeasible and that the targeted person is engaged in activities that pose a continued and imminent threat to U.S. persons or interests. The memo also states the U.S. Constitution would not require the government to provide, quote, "further process," such as advance notice [or] a court hearing before carrying out a deadly strike on a U.S. citizen. The memo was written on July 16, 2010, months after the first known U.S. attempt to kill Anwar al-Awlaki.

On Capitol Hill, Senator Ron Wyden praised the release of the memo but said it raises many questions. Wyden asked, quote, "How much evidence does the president need to determine that a particular American is a legitimate target for military action? Can the president strike an American anywhere in the world?" he asked.

The memo was authored by former Obama Justice Department official David Barron. Last month, the Senate confirmed Barron’s nomination to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Earlier this year, a federal appeals court ordered the memo’s disclosure in response to lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times.

To discuss the significance of the memo, we’re joined by Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project.

Welcome to Democracy Now! So you got what you wanted: You got the memo. What do you find most significant inside it?

 
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