The US government’s internal guidelines for targeted killings of al-Qaeda suspects allow for such strikes against US citizens abroad, as long as they are believed to be senior leaders of the group and still engaged in operations, a leaked justice department memo shows.
The 16-page document, released by the US-based NBC news television service on Tuesday, provides a legal rationale behind the US administration’s use of drone strikes against al-Qaeda suspects.
The memo says that it is lawful for the US to target al-Qaeda-linked US citizens if they pose an “imminent” threat of violent attack against other US citizens, and that delaying action against such people would create an unacceptably high risk.
Such circumstances may necessitate expanding the concept of “imminent threat”, the memo says.
“The threat posed by al-Qaeda and its associated forces demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat,” the document says.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the document is “profoundly disturbing”.
“According to the white paper, the government has the authority to carry out targeted killings of US citizens without presenting evidence to a judge before the fact or after, and indeed without even acknowledging to the courts or to the public that the authority has been exercised,” Jameel Jaffer, ACLU’s deputy legal director, wrote on the organisation’s website.
“Without saying so explicitly, the government claims the authority to kill American terrorism suspects in secret.”
He termed the limits set out in the memo to be “so vague and elastic that they will be easily manipulated”.