It’s no surprise that among the first questions White House Press Secretary Jay Carney received at today’s press briefing was one that concerned a recently-leaked Justice Department memo that offered justification for killing U.S. citizens abroad in predator drone attacks.
Carney began by clarifying that the memo in question was an “unclassified document” prepared for members of Congress. “The president takes his responsibilities very seriously,” Carney said. “And first and foremost that’s his responsibility to protect the United States.” He continued by saying that the president is dedicated to waging the war on Al-Qaeda “in a way that is fully consistent with the Constitution and all the applicable laws.”
Turing specifically to unmanned drone attacks, Carney appeared to be reading from a prepared statement on the matter, emphasizing that “these strikes are legal, they are ethical and they are wise.”
But wait! There’s more!
Anyway, here is what the lawyers to the president’s lawyer say about the legality of killing Americans who are constituted as al Qaeda or al Qaeda-linked threats. (The memo makes it clear that its language does not apply to other instances where American citizens might be killed by their government.)
1. “An informed, high-level official” must determine that the person represents “an imminent threat” of “violent attack against the United States.”
2. Capturing the dude is “infeasible,” and the government will continue to assess whether capturing him is feasible.
3. The killing, or “lethal operation,” must be conducted according to the laws of war.
Sounds kind of broad. What about due process? The memo says that if the person presents an imminent threat to the homeland, then his due-process rights must be weighed against the obligation of the executive to protect the homeland. It asserts that the procedures it lays out do constitute a form of due process, (although, significantly, not judicial due process — all of this takes place within the executive branch).
Good thing we didn’t elect that Romney guy. No way could we trust someone like that with so much power. But Obama has a Nobel Peace Prize, so we know we can trust him.