Memo justifying drone killing of American al-Qaida leader is released

Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — A previously secret Justice Department memo, released by a federal appeals court Monday, justified the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011, on the grounds that as a leader of an al-Qaida affiliate, he was actively “engaged in hostilities against the United States.”

The 2010 memo was written by David Barron, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel at the time, and concluded that neither the Constitution nor several federal statutes would prevent the president from ordering the killing of someone in al-Awlaki’s circumstances.

“At least where, as here, the target’s activities pose a ‘continued and imminent threat of violence or death’ to U.S. persons, ‘the highest officers in the Intelligence Community have reviewed the factual basis’ for the lethal operation, and a capture operation would be infeasible,” the killing would be considered a lawful act of war, the memo concluded.

The existence of the memo and the outline of its legal argument for why the government had authority to kill al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, has been known for some time. But the release of a redacted copy by a federal appeals court in New York provided the first public view of the specifics.

The Obama administration had resisted efforts to release the document to the public, but lost that fight in the appeals court and decided against appealing further.

Barron, who wrote at least three memos on the subject, was recently confirmed as a federal judge after the Obama administration agreed to a demand from several senators that they be allowed to read the documents.

“In the present circumstances, as we understand the facts, the U.S. citizen in question has gone overseas and become part of the forces of an enemy with which the United States is engaged in an armed conflict; that person is engaged in continual planning and direction of attacks upon U.S. persons from one of the enemy’s overseas bases of operations; the U.S. government does not know precisely when such attacks will occur; and a capture operation would be infeasible,” Barron wrote.

In those circumstances, “the Constitution would not require the government to provide further process” such as advance notice or a court hearing before carrying out a deadly strike, he wrote.

In a statement, a lawyer representing al-Awlaki’s family criticized the legal reasoning in the memo.

“The DOJ memo confirms that the government’s drone killing program is built on gross distortions of law,” said Pardiss Kebriaei of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.

The memo authorized either the U.S. military or the CIA to carry out a strike against al-Awlaki. The drone strike in which he was killed, which also took the life of another U.S. citizen who was traveling with him, was carried out by the military. The second victim was not a target, U.S. officials said later.

More in Local News

Fatal car crash reported on Highway 92 near Lake Stevens

The 3 p.m. accident and investigation stopped traffic in both directions near Machias Road.

Mayor tries new tactic to curb fire department overtime

Stephanson says an engine won’t go into service when the only available staff would be on overtime.

Jamie Copeland is a senior at Cedar Park Christian Schools’ Mountlake Terrace campus. She is a basketball player, ASB president, cheerleader and, of course, a Lion. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Cedar Park Christian senior stepping up to new challenges

Jamie Copeland’s academics include STEM studies, leadership, ASB activities, honor society.

Cheering families welcome Kidd, Shoup after 6 months at sea

“I get back Daddy back today,” said one homemade sign at Naval Station Everett.

Paine Field fire chief will be allowed to retire

In his letter, the airport director noted Jeff Bohnet was leaving while under investigation.

Stanwood man, 33, killed in crash near Marysville

Speed may have been a factor, the sheriff’s department said.

County plans to sue to recoup costs from ballot drop-box law

A quarter-million dollars could be spent adding 19 ballot boxes in rural areas.

Woman, 47, found dead in Marysville jail cell

She’d been in custody about four days after being arrested on warrants, police said.

Son arrested for hitting father on head at Marysville home

The father grabbed a metal rod and struck his son in the head, too. Both needed medical treatment.

Most Read