U.S. Air Force / Jonathan Snyder

DOJ Releases Memo Justifying Drone Strike On U.S. Citizen

The secret memo containing the legal justification for the drone strike on U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was made public Monday.

By Matt Picht | June 23, 2014

A federal court has released the secret Justice Department memo that the U.S. government says justifies drone strikes against American citizens.

"What the memo says is that, it's true, there is a law that makes it illegal to kill an American citizen overseas. But the memo says there is a public safety justification exception to that." (Via MSNBC)

The heavily-redacted 41-page document concerns the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. citizen who was allegedly a senior al-Qaeda official linked to several terrorist attacks. Awlaki was killed in 2011 in Yemen by a U.S. drone strike. (Via CNN)

The memo, which was written more than a year before the strike, concludes the Obama administration was able to use lethal force against Awlaki without due process, because "the target's activities pose a 'continued and imminent threat of violence or death' to U.S. persons ... and a capture operation would be infeasible." (Via U.S. Department of Justice)

Awlaki's death sparked concerns about whether the administration was legally able to kill a U.S. citizen overseas without trial. The ACLU, along with reporters from The New York Times, filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2011 asking for the government's justification for the strike, prompting a long legal battle over the documents. (Via PBS)

The author of the memo, David Barron, was blocked by the Senate from becoming a federal appeals court judge until the Justice Department agreed to release the memo to the public. Barron was finally confirmed one month ago. (Via C-SPAN)

​An attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who previously contested the Awlaki killings in court, wrote Monday "The DOJ memo confirms that the government’s drone killing program is built on gross distortions of law. ... The United States loosening and redefining international rules governing the use of force and war is ultimately not going to make anyone any safer."

And some critics point out the memo's logic could lead to executive overreach on similar cases in the future. 

​"Anybody who cares about government being responsive ... is going to be very concerned about the idea that down the road, some future government may use that same language to justify doing things which I think are even farther beyond the scope of this memo." (Via Fox News)

The memo released Monday is just one of the documents the administration used to justify its strike on Awlaki. The ACLU announced Monday it will continue to fight for the publication of rest of those documents.

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