Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday set down conditions that justify the killing of an American citizen living abroad who is plotting an attack against the United States.
The administration has come under fire for killing American-born al-Qaida operative Anwar al-Awlaki in a targeted military drone attack in Yemen five months ago.
Critics demanded the White House release a Justice Department memo providing the legal basis for killing al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen using his safe haven in Yemen to plot terrorist attacks against Americans. Civil rights advocates argue the president has no authority to kill an American citizen without following due process under the Constitution.
Without mentioning al-Awlaki, Mr. Holder’s remarks to students at Northwestern University law school provided a legal framework for taking lethal action without court approval or other outside oversight.
The attacks, he said, are justified when a U.S. citizen living in another country presents an imminent threat of attack against the United States, their capture is not feasible and the killing would be consistent with the laws of war.
The criteria apply to the attack on al-Awlaki, whom President Obama called a leader of al-Qaida operations on the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Awlaki has been associated with several attempted terrorist attacks. He was allegedly involved in the plot by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day 2009.
The administration’s legal argument recognizes the changed nature of warfare with terrorists capable of coordinating attacks against the United States and American citizens far removed from a traditional battlefield.
They are, as Mr. Holder said, a “stateless enemy, prone to shifting operations from country to country.” They are engaging in acts of war, not committing misdemeanors and felonies that can be prosecuted in the courts.
“Given the nature of how terrorists act and where they tend to hide, it may not always be feasible to capture a United States citizen terrorist who presents an imminent threat of violent attack,”
Mr. Holder said. “In that case, our government has the clear authority to defend the United States with lethal force.” In such instances, citizenship should not protect them from defending Americans against attack.
For some reason I started thinking "Central Bank" after reading his closing comment.