In a leaked 16-page U.S. Justice Department memo, the legal argument and basis for using drone strikes to target and kill U.S. citizens has been revealed, and it is absolutely alarming. We need transparency and accountability immediately because we are already on a slippery slope. The following text appeared in the memo to explain how the drone strikes are conducted:
The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States 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.
An “informed, high-level” official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American has been “recently” involved in “activities” posing a threat of a violent attack and “there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.”
For those of us who don’t speak counter-terrorism jargon, this is what the memo is saying:
If a leader or ally of Al-Qaeda happens to be found anywhere, the U.S. government does not need any evidence the person is planning an attack on U.S. persons and interests ever to take them out. "Recently" means "any time" since we started using predator drones, and sometimes before. "Activities" means anything more than breathing and eating. An "informed, high-level official" includes CTU agent Jack Bauer.
The memo brings us back to September 2011, when a drone strike in Yemen eliminated alleged Al-Qaeda operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both men were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government. Awlaki was an alleged Al-Qaeda member born in New Mexico. Khan was a naturalized U.S. citizen who produced an online magazine bolstering Al-Qaeda’s ideology.
The Obama administration has argued that it is acting in self-defense according to international law when conducting drone strikes to kill Al-Qaeda suspects. The big problem here is the “definition” of the term imminent. The memo seems to suggest that the focus should be placed on the imminence of taking out a target opposed to the potential imminence of an attack on U.S. persons and interests. There is no burden on the government to produce evidence that a specific attack is being planned if the target is generally engaged in plotting against the U.S.
If this logic continues, many U.S. citizens could become drone targets, including all those who wish to secede or create political propaganda about “stopping” President Obama. Although it seems absolutely ridiculous to target U.S. citizens over such things, the leaked memo’s logic is not the far away from it. Al-Qaeda has made it known that its mission is to destroy the U.S., and if you also share this view, you are considered one of its allies. How could wishing to secede or even seeking to stop this very drone program itself not be considered “plotting against the U.S.?”
If an individual committed one of the “activities” mentioned above in a “recent” capacity and is found outside of the country, all it takes is one informed, high-level official (however defined) to subjectively come in and bring the hammer down. The limits placed on the government in this area are so vague and elastic, they are practically begging to be manipulated.