Washington: In what may further fuel the controversy over the legitimacy of American drone strikes, an internal Justice Department memo leak on Tuesday revealed that it was legal to kill the US citizens abroad, who were linked to al Qaeda or its allies and posed “imminent threat”.
The leaked 16-page documents belonging to Department of Justice present a justification on how Obama administration’s usage of drone strikes against Qaeda-linked US citizens abroad is legal.
The memo also outlines a broader definition of “imminent threat” saying that if the person is constantly involved in plotting violent attacks against America, he constitutes an “imminent threat” and killing him is lawful if his capture is not feasible.
"The threat posed by al Qaeda and its associated forces demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat," the document says.
The memo does not require the US to have information about a specific imminent attack against the US But it does require that capture of a terrorist suspect not be feasible and that any such lethal operation by the United States targeting a person comply with fundamental law-of-war principles.
The document also says that a decision maker must take into account that "the US government may not be aware of all al Qaeda plots as they are developing and thus cannot be confident that none is about to occur; and that ... the nation may have a limited window of opportunity within which to strike in a manner that both has a high likelihood of success and reduces the probability of American casualties."
With this understanding, the document added, a high-level official could conclude, for example, that an individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States where he is an operational leader of al Qaeda or an associated force and is personally and continually involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States.
The document says that the use of lethal force would not violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution when a targeted person is an operational leader of an enemy force and an informed, high-level government official has determined that he poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US.
The document said the courts have no role to play in the matter.
A September 2011 drone strike in Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both U.S. citizens.
With Agency Inputs