Uncovered Justice Department Memo Reveals U.S. Legal Justification For Drone Strikes

Owen Poindexter
Despite the efforts of the U.S. Justice Department a memo has come to light that explains Obama's legal justification for drone strikes.

drone, drone strikes, justice department, memo, legal justification, john brennan, cia director
The memo showing the U.S. justification for predator drone strikes is revealing, partly in how ambiguous it is. PHOTO: Reuters

A special report from NBC's Michael Isikoff reveals more about why the Obama Administration's Justice Department believes it has the legal ability to kill people in other countries with no warrant, using, among other methods, predator drone strikes. Isikoff explained what he had unconvered to Rachel Maddow on her show last night:

The issue is particularly hot right now, because the U.S. Senate is set to hear John Brennan for CIA Director. Brennan was the first in the administration to acknowledge the use of targeted drone strikes, calling them “consistent with the inherent right of self-defense.” Administration officials, such as Attorney General Eric Holder have been hesitant to even acknowledge U.S. drone strikes, and have cited imminent security threats in justifying the use of drones.

However, the picture painted by the Justice Department's white paper paints a much broader picture. The draft legally justifying drone strikes reads:

“The condition that an operational  leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

Isikoff's description explains that not only is the Obama's Justice Department's legal justification quite broad, it is very open to interpretation. From Isikoff's exclusive article:

Instead, it says,  an “informed, high-level” official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American  has been “recently” involved in “activities” posing a threat of a violent attack and “there is  no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.” The memo does not define “recently” or “activities.”

So, if someone in the Obama Administration (and in future administrations) decides that you have recently displayed violent intentions toward the United States, the U.S. can kill you, even if you show no plans to do anything. This remains true if you are a U.S. citizen.

Read that last paragraph again.

Ron Wyden (D-OR) and ten other senators recently wrote a letter to President Obama, asking him to release all memos legally justifying these killings. It seems likely that Obama would normally ignore such a memo, but if the group of 11 senators threatened to hold up Brennan's confirmation, Obama might blink.

Should the U.S. be conducting drone strikes? Should they tighten their standards? I don't have easy answers to everything here, and I would like to hear your thoughts. Let me know on twitter and in the comments.