Newly Released Memo Details Justification for Drone Assassination of American Citizen

Washington D.C. – Late Friday the U.S. Department of Justice released a heavily redacted memo that deals with the targeted assassination of American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki. The Justice Department was responding to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times that sought to uncover the legal justification for the drone bombing, which lead to Awlaki’s death.

McClathcy reports that the memo was written on February 19, 2010 by former Assistant Attorney General David J. Barron, who is now a judge on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. Barron asserted that “killings in self-defense [is] not assassination.” Although Awlaki was an American citizen, the memo states that applying constitutional rights to a trial in this circumstance “could significantly disrupt the ability of the political branches to respond to foreign situations involving our national interests.”

Another interesting point made in the memo is a reference to the Supreme Court allowing deadly force to be used by police officers when threatened.

“This conclusion draws further support from the fact that, even in domestic law enforcement operations, the Supreme Court has noted that “if the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical
harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to ‘prevent escape and if, where feasible, some warning has been given”

The new memo does not cover what specific threat Awlaki posed. It’s release comes after the June 23 release of a more recent document that gave few details into the drone killing. That memo was dated July 2010. The Obama administration allowed the document to be made public after senators stated they would block Barron’s nomination to the Federal Appeals Court.

Although Awlaki was openly working with Al-Qaeda and promoting insurrection against the United States, the Obama Administration has yet to publicly reveal the specifics behind what immediate danger Awlaki posed. Indeed, when family members attempted to take the matter to court, President Obama claimed that the courts and the family could not hold the U.S. government accountable.

Shortly after the bombing, Nasser al-Awlaki, father and grandfather of Anwar Awlaki and his son, Abdulrahman, who was killed one month after Anwar, filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration. Initially Judge Rosemary Collyer seemed critical of the administration’s action and secrecy, at one point telling U.S. Justice Department lawyer Brian Hauck that “The executive is not an effective check on the executive when it comes to a person’s constitutional rights. Ultimately, however, Judge Collyer dismissed the lawsuit claiming that the administration “cannot be held personally responsible in monetary damages for conducting war.” The elder Awlaki stated, “I want answers from the government when it decides to take life, but all I have got so far is secrecy and a refusal even to explain.”.

It would be easy to dismiss this case as a justified killing of a radical terrorist bent on harming the United States, but Awlaki’s American citizenship makes the situation troublesome. Also, regardless of whether the accused was an American citizen or not, we have been taught to believe in the American justice system as arbiter of the law. In the age of Obama has the phrase innocent until proven guilty lost meaning? There are still many important questions that remain to be answered in this case.

As Kevin Gosztola of FireDogLake writes:

“Again, it is not fully known what imminent threat Awlaki posed. It is clear that Awlaki associated with individuals, who were involved with terrorism. Perhaps, he was a part of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The administration should come out with documentation of Awlaki’s history up to the time when he was killed and confirm whatever role he had in AQAP.”

Until the veil of secrecy is lifted Americans will live under the fear that President Obama, or some president in the future could yield the power to assassinate American citizens deemed as threats with no recourse available to the public. If America is to re-establish itself as a bastion of freedom and law and order, the full details of this memo must be released.