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As Outrage Erupts, Obama Administration Defends its Targeted Killings of U.S. Citizens Overseas

Attorney General Eric Holder gave a broad defense of the chillingly expansive authority that the United States claims to be able to kill people, including its own citizens.

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HINA SHAMSI: I think there are three important issues about his speech. First of all, it is a welcome gesture towards additional transparency. But problematically, it amounted to a broad defense of the chillingly expansive authority that the United States claims to be able to kill people, including its own citizens, far from any battlefield, without judicial review or oversight of the legal standards, the process and the evidentiary basis for targeted killing drone strikes. The speech left open more questions than it answered about exactly what the legal authority, the process and the standards are. And those two things together, the fact that there is this chillingly broad authority as well as the lack of true transparency, show the need for meaningful transparency, which requires the administration to release the legal memos justifying its authority to engage in targeted killing, which we have sued for—

AMY GOODMAN: What’s their rationale for not?

HINA SHAMSI: The administration takes the position that it will acknowledge that the  DOD has engaged in drone strikes, but it refuses to let the  CIA or the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice even acknowledge the existence of this program.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to Eric Holder. Here he’s explaining when and why the U.S. would use lethal force against a U.S. citizen.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: Any decision to use lethal force against a United States citizen, even one intent on murdering Americans and who has become an operational leader of al-Qaeda in a foreign land, is among the gravest that government leaders can face. The American people can be, and deserve to be, assured that actions taken in their defense are consistent with their values and their laws. So, although I cannot discuss or confirm any particular program or operation, I believe it is important to explain these legal principles publicly.

Now, let me be clear. An operation using lethal force in a foreign country targeted against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qaeda or associated forces and who is actively engaged in planning to kill Americans would be lawful at least in the following circumstances: first, the U.S. government has determined after a thorough and careful review that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; second, capture is not feasible; and third, the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.

AMY GOODMAN: Holder emphasized U.S. presidents do not need to seek permission from the federal court before acting against a U.S. citizen.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: Some have argued that the president is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qaeda or associated forces. This is simply not accurate. Due process and judicial process are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process. It does not guarantee judicial process.

AMY GOODMAN: ACLU’s Hina Shamsi, respond.

HINA SHAMSI: Problem here is that while Attorney General Holder acknowledges that the Constitution requires due process before the government takes the life of one of its own citizens, he says it is up to the executive branch alone, without judicial review, to determine what process is due and to make that decision without any oversight. And that’s simply not the case in our constitutional system of checks and balances. The public deserves a right to know what standards, evidence and criteria are used when the administration seeks to kill one of its own citizens, and the legal basis for that exercise of authority needs to be reviewed by the court because of the significant constitutional questions that are raised.

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