“Everyone agrees that if someone were loading a bomb ready to drop on a city in the United States. Everyone would say ‘stop that plane,’ it wouldn’t really matter if it was being piloted by an American or somebody from any other country. That would be an imminent threat,” George Washington University Professor of Law and Constitution Expert Stephen Saltzburg said on Morning Joe in response to the memo outlining the Justice Department’s legal case for using drone strikes against terrorists and American citizens abroad. “This memorandum says the United States reserves the rights to kill an American that it identifies as a high level al-Qaeda operative or someone who’s an associated force of al-Qaeda, who poses an imminent threat, but then defines imminent as being nothing that’s imminent at all.”
The memo states: “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.”
The 16-page White Paper, first released by NBC News’ Michael Isikoff, outlining the legality of drones notes that the U.S. can order the killing of citizens if they are thought to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaeda or “an associated force”—even if there is no indication that they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.
“If Americans happen to be a part of the attack force, it’s treason, but they don’t give protection above which the law of war would give anybody else,” Saltzburg said on Morning Joe. “The memorandum goes beyond that sense of immediate sense of self-defense.”
The memo, Saltzburg explains, “tries to combine U.S. law, international law, and the law of war,” and essentially, expands a nation’s right to self-defense. “It tries to deal with something we’ve never had to deal with before, which is a non-state actor like al Qaeda and affiliated group and the question of what to do about that when they spread out all over the world and apparently still target the U.S.”