Washington, Feb 5 (IANS/RIA Novosti) A confidential memo obtained by media and published Tuesday spells out the US government's legal justification for killing US citizens linked to Al Qaeda.
The memo offers a rare look at one of the most secretive policies of President Barack Obama's administration.
"The president has authority to respond to the imminent threat posed by Al Qaeda and its associated forces, arising from his constitutional responsibility to protect the country," as well as the right to national self-defence and congressional authorisation for military force against Al Qaeda, the 16-page document reads.
The memo, released publicly by NBC News, spells out three circumstances in which the US government finds just cause for the use of lethal force against its own citizens who are senior operational leaders of Al Qaeda or an associated force:
1. When "an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US"
2. When capturing the individual is not feasible
3. When such action is consistent with the principles of war
The memo states that in such circumstances, the killing would be lawful under US and international law.
At least four US citizens have been killed in US drone strikes in Yemen.
Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim cleric born in the US, was killed by a drone strike in September, 2011, and was accused of helping an organisation, affiliated with Al Qaeda, plan attacks against the US, according to the Washington Post.
Members of Congress have long demanded documentation on the administration's policy on the use of force against its own citizens.
With confirmation hearings for Obama's nominee to head the CIA, John Brennan, scheduled for later this week and a vote pending in the Senate Armed Services Committee for Secretary of Defense-nominee Chuck Hagel, the demands took on a more urgent tone.
In a letter dated Feb 4, 11 senators asked the White House for documents that outline the president's authority to authorise the killing of American citizens.
"These legal opinions issued by the Department of Justice have remained hidden from the general public and have been withheld from members of Congress, inhibiting Congress' ability to conduct necessary oversight," they wrote.
The legal justifications are important, they said, "so that Congress and the public can decide whether this authority has been properly defined, and whether the president's power to deliberately kill American citizens is subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards".
"The idea that the president has this extraordinary power that can be utilized in secret without any oversight or accountability, I think is wrong and detrimental to the public interest," Senator Ron Wyden said in an interview, according to the Washington Post.
Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the memo "a remarkable document", that spells out "sweeping authority" with limits that are "so vague and elastic that they will be easily manipulated".