Holder: US Can Legally Kill Americans in Terror Groups
The U.S. government is legally justified in killing its own citizens overseas if they are involved in plotting terror attacks against America, Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday, offering the Obama administration’s most detailed explanation so far of its controversial targeted killing program.
“In this hour of danger, we simply cannot afford to wait until deadly plans are carried out, and we will not,” he said in remarks prepared for a speech at Northwestern University’s law school in Chicago.
An American-born Islamic cleric, Anwar al Awlaki, was killed in a U.S. drone attack in Yemen in late September. Some civil liberties groups condemned the attack. Others, including members of Congress, called for a more complete explanation of how such a targeted killing of an American civilian was consistent with the U.S. Constitution.
The Fifth Amendment provides that no one can be “deprived of life” without due process of law. But that due process, Holder said, doesn’t necessarily come from a court.
“Due process and judicial process are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process,” the attorney general said.
Holder said a U.S. citizen can legally be targeted in a foreign country if that person is “a senior leader of al-Qaida or associated forces,” and is actively involved in planning to kill Americans. Killing would be justified if the person poses an imminent threat of a violent attack against the U.S. and cannot easily be captured.
Any military operation targeting a citizen overseas must be carried out consistent with the law of war. “The principle of humanity requires us to use weapons that will not inflict unnecessary suffering,” he said.