The ‘open secret’ that is U.S. drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan, together with Yemen and Somalia, attract widespread criticism due to their perceived illegality. Last year, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, was killed by a Predator drone in Yemen. After nearly a decade of these extra-judicial strikes, and on the heels of President Obama’s recent web-chat, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has gone on record to discuss the CIA’s program against al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
“The president may use force abroad against a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war — even if that individual happens to be a U.S. citizen,” Holder said Monday.
Holder said the government analysis starts with the question of geography: “Our legal authority is not limited to the battlefields in Afghanistan.”
Holder said the legal authorization Congress passed a week after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, stretches to cover military action there. He went on to state that the administration acts after considering whether it has “the consent of the nation involved or after a determination that the nation is unable or unwilling to deal effectively with a threat to the United States.”
Mr. Holder argued that a targeted strike would be lawful only if the administration concluded that the “individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States” and that “capture is not feasible.” An “imminent threat,” Mr. Holder explained, need not require the identification of a “precise time, place, and manner” of such an attack. He added: “The unfortunate reality is that our nation will likely continue to face terrorist threats that — at times — originate with our own citizens,” Mr. Holder said. “We must take steps to stop them — in full accordance with the Constitution. In this hour of danger, we simply cannot afford to wait until deadly plans are carried out — and we will not.”