A US channel has leaked a document written by US government lawyers which argues that it is lawful for the President to kill US citizens just so long as “an informed, high-ranking official” declares that the citizen presents a “continuing” threat to the US.
It is not necessary for a specific attack on the US to be in process. The document claims that the courts can play no role in evaluating these declarations, so if the US military targets and kills a US citizen whom an official has declared the citizen to be a target, there is no basis for challenging the killing in court.
The document was apparently prompted by the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was targeted and killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. US government officials say al-Awlaki was the leader of an al-Qaeda affiliate.
The US government wants the scope for military action which a declaration of war would give it, but without declaring war, because it’s not possible to make the so-called “war on terror” a declared war in the same way as a war against a named country.
Despite Obama dropping Bush’s “war on terror” rhetoric, drone strikes have increased from around 50 during the George W. Bush administration to more than 350 over the past four years.
The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the Justice Department to publish the lawyers’ document.