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WASHINGTON: The US government has authorised the killing of American citizens as part of its controversial drone campaign against Al Qaeda even without intelligence that such Americans are actively plotting to attack a US target, according to a Justice Department memo.
The unclassified memo, first obtained by NBC News, argues that drone strikes are justified under American law if a targeted US citizen had “recently” been involved in “activities” posing a possible threat and provided that there is no evidence suggesting the individual “renounced or abandoned” such activities.
The document was disclosed as a bipartisan group of US senators called on the Obama administration to release to Congress “any and all” legal opinions laying out the government’s understanding of what legal powers the president has to deliberately kill
The senators who signed the letter, including members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the administration’s cooperation would “help avoid an unnecessary confrontation that could affect the Senate’s consideration of nominees for national security purposes.”
Obama has nominated John Brennan, his White House counter terrorism adviser, who defends drone strikes, to lead the CIA.
An Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing on the nomination is scheduled for tomorrow, and Brennan is likely to face questioning on drone policy.
One national security official said the leak of the Justice Department memo may have been timed to blunt such congressional demands for the release of additional, possibly classified, documents relating to the US use of drones.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a statement yesterday said she had been calling on the administration to release legal analyses related to the use of drones for more than a year.
Feinstein said the document published by NBC had been given to congressional committees last June on a confidential basis, and that her committee is seeking additional documents, which are believed to remain classified.
Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday said he was concerned release of more documents could put sources and operations
“We’ll have to look at this and see how, what it is we want to do with these memos. But you have to understand that we are talking about things that are, that go into really kind of how we conduct our offensive operations against a clear and present danger to this nation,” Holder said at a press conference.
“That is a real concern to reveal sources, to potentially reveal sources and methods and put at risk the very mechanisms that we use to try to keep people safe, which is our primary responsibility, he added.