A Justice Department memo made public on Monday allows agents operating overseas to attack and kill American citizens associated with terrorist organizations.
Washington Post notes that the provisions refer only to Americans that constitute an “imminent threat” to agents' lives or that have the potential of causing collateral damage among civilians.
“In this context, imminence must incorporate considerations of the relevant window of opportunity,” it reads. Their knowledge of current operations does not constitute a factor in the decision-making process.
The document is titled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaeda or An Associated Force.”
It can be read on the NBC website in full. An official copy is yet to be released by the Department of Justice.
According to said memo, those involved in al-Qaeda or its partner associations are OKed for elimination. However, the decision has to be made by an “informed, high-level official of the U.S. government.”
The documentation was drawn up before a drone strike in Yemen in September 2011, in which U.S.-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed. Al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, as well as two other Americans, were associated with an al-Qaeda group based in Yemen.
The memo has prompted outrage from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who has requested it for a case it lost in New York. Dubbing it “profoundly disturbing,” ACLU plans to appeal the case based on it.
The organization also describes the provisions as “a stunning overreach of executive authority — the claimed power to declare Americans a threat and kill them far from a recognized battlefield and without any judicial involvement before or after the fact.”
“Needless to say, the white paper is not a substitute for the legal memo. But it’s a pretty remarkable document,” adds ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer.