Pentagon Says U.S. Citizens With Terrorism Ties Can Be Targeted in Strikes
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration’s top Pentagon lawyer on Wednesday said that American citizens who join Al Qaeda can be targeted for killing and that courts should have no role in reviewing executive branch decisions about whether someone has met such criteria.
“Belligerents who also happen to be U.S. citizens do not enjoy immunity where non-citizen belligerents are valid military objectives,” said Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department general counsel, in a speech at Yale Law School.
Mr. Johnson’s remarks offered an unusually comprehensive and public declaration of the Obama administration’s national security legal policy views in the war against Al Qaeda and its allies. While the outlines of those views have been aired in pieces before, officials usually discuss such matters only on condition of anonymity.
In raising the targeted killing of an American citizen, Mr. Johnson emphasized that he was not talking about any particular operation. The administration has declined to discuss its killing last September of Anwar Al-Awlaki, a New Mexico-born radical Islamist cleric who died in a drone strike in Yemen that technically remains a covert operation.
Still, Mr. Johnson invoked a lawsuit filed by Mr. Awlaki’s father before the killing that had sought an injunction against targeting his son, citing with approval a district judge’s decision to dismiss the case and saying that targeting decisions are not suited to court review because they must be made quickly and based on fast-evolving intelligence.
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