The “white paper” memo obtained by Michael Isikoff laying out the Obama administration’s targeted assassination policy, by which the POTUS has given the government permission to kill any American, on U.S. soil or not, without due process:
A confidential Justice Department memo 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 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects abroad, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes.
Conor Friedersdorf has the entire 16-page memo at the bottom of a post in which he asks why Pres. Obama kept it a secret from the American people:
On reading the unredacted document, ask yourself, why wasn’t this released to the public by the Obama Administration? Which part of its legal reasoning could jeopardize national security in any way? Since it reveals no national-security secrets, what possible justification could there be for willfully keeping its contents from Americans, who have a compelling interest in understanding, scrutinizing and debating the legal framework that surrounds extrajudicial killing?
And what is that legal framework?
The paper states that the US government can kill its own citizens overseas if:
(1) An informed, high level-official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.
(2) Capture is infeasible, and the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible; and
(3) the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.
The reality is even worse than this “legal” framework makes it sound. It turns out the Obama administration defines key terms very loosely:
When the paper says “imminent threat of violent attack against the United States,” however, “imminent” means something other than what you might expect. All it means is that the executive branch of the US government must make a secret, unilateral determination that the person it wants to kill is a member of a terrorist organization: “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 will take place in the immediate future,” the paper notes. Not since the torture memos themselves have we seen such a bald defiance of what words actually mean. In the white paper, the government explains its broad definition of “imminent threat” by arguing that delaying a targeted killing “until preparations for an attack are concluded, would not allow the United States sufficient time to defend itself.”
As for “feasibility of capture,” after the memo gets through with all the “but ifs,” the conditions under which capture would be feasible are essentially nonexistent:
Regarding the feasibility of capture, capture would not be feasible if it could not be physically effectuated during the relevant window of opportunity or if the relevant country were to decline to consent to a capture operation. Other factors such as undue risk to U.S. personnel conducting a potential capture operation also could be relevant. Feasibility would be a highly fact-specific and potentially time-sensitive inquiry.