The U.S. may target and kill U.S. citizens when they take up arms with al-Qaeda, top lawyers in the Obama administration said Thursday.
CIA counsel Stephen Preston and Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson were questioned at a national security conference about the drone strike that killed American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, but they would not comment on it specifically. They did say U.S. citizens don’t have legal rights when they side with al-Qaeda.
Johnson maintained that only the executive branch, not the courts, can decide who qualifies as an enemy on a battlefield. Unfortunately for U.S. citizens, the secret, peremptory nature of such executive decisions is not up to a review of any kind and do not require that any evidence be put forth proving the individual’s guilt or association with al-Qaeda.
Obama’s lawyers were also not bothered by the fact that the “battlefield” in such considerations is amorphous and essentially spans the globe, a fact which makes their legal opinion on targeted assassinations of American citizens a dramatic expansion of unaccountable government power.
Also unmentioned was the CIA murder of al-Awlaki’s 16-year old son and what kind of legal authority the Obama administration had for that action. Presumably, they are immune from any investigation or prosecution regarding that attack.