Federal Court Releases DOJ Memo Justifying Targeted Killing of Anwar al-Aulaqi

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) This Monday a federal court released a July 2010 Justice Department memo that justified a DoD or CIA drone strike against senior al-Qaeda member Anwar al-Aulaqi. The 41-page memo, penned by then-Assistant Attorney General David Barron, sheds new light on the controversial “targeted-killing-of-American-citizens” debate in the United States. It explores the legal aspects of both unlawful and lawful killings of American citizens under domestic and international code, and ultimately justifies the targeting of al-Aulaqi, a dual American and Yemeni citizen, under “public authority justification.” Al-Aulaqi was killed in a September 2011 drone strike launched by the CIA.

The memo, however, remains heavily redacted. According to a Huffington Post article posted Monday, the redactions “left many of the factual questions surrounding the justification for killing Awlaki unanswered, including how the government came to conclude that he was a senior member of al Qaeda, and why he posed an imminent threat.”

NBC News also sounded off on the memo’s implications for future targeted killings. The network originally picked up a Justice Department white paper on the topic in September 2013 titled, “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force.” According to this paper, 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.” NBC states that this white paper and newly released memo introduce a “more expansive definition of self-defense or imminent attack” than previously described by government officials.

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