Leaked DOJ Memo Justifies Drone Strikes On US Citizens

A leaked Justice Department white paper reveals a draft legal framework which describes in detail the targeting of American citizens by drones — without due process.

The document, obtained by NBC News, explains that targets believed to be "senior operational leader[s] of al-Qa'ida" or an "associated force" who "pose an imminent threat" can be targeted by US drones without the need for excessive quantities of paperwork.

The memo goes on to explain that an "informed, high-level" official of the US government must determine that the target has "recently" been involved in "activities" posing a threat of a violent attack and "there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities". The words "recently" and "activities" aren't defined. Right.

There are, of course, some further guidelines. Capturing the person in question must be "infeasible" and terminating the target must be performed according to the "law of war principles." Well, at least that's something.

But another section of the report is a little more vague. The use of the word "imminence", for instance, isn't as restrictive as you might think, with the report explaining that it "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". Which seems to undermine some of the guidelines that go before it.

All of this suggests that this draft legal framework is very much a framework — and a relatively flimsy one at that. Of course, this is a leaked draft and so in no way final, but it does reveal the kinds of attitudes which are shaping the Obama administration's drone-based counterterrorism campaigns. It remains to be seen exactly how the final drone guidelines will turn out. [NBC News via Verge]

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