A newly leaked memo from the White House administration claims the U.S. has authority to kill al-Qaeda members overseas, even those who are American citizens, in terms that go well beyond statements made previously by President Obama and some of his top aides.
The position by the administration has created objections from critics. However, Congress has been muted in its response, reflecting how much the once controversial practices of drone warfare are now mainstream after over 10 years of conflict.
The legal justification of the administration for the strikes, which is outlined in a paper from the Justice Department, became public on Monday. It states that a high-level, informed official is able to approve a strike against a member of al-Qaeda, including those who are American citizens, even if there is no evidence the person targeted is planning an operation.
The imminent threat of an attack against the U.S. doesn’t require… any clear evidence a specific attack against people in the U.S. or its interests will happen in the immediate future, the paper said, which was given to some Congressional members during this past summer.
Administration officials did say they would rather capture terrorists instead of killing them, but the paper said an operation to capture a terrorist could be ruled too unsafe if the risk is too high to American troops. In the vast majority of cases, said U.S. officials, those types of operations have been ruled out.
The paper appears as if it offers a greater leeway than statements previously from the administration have suggested. Obama, in his last comments about the issue, back in September of 2012, said the White House would authorize strikes in response to threats that are serious but not speculative.