According to Attorney General Eric Holder it’s perfectly fine for the U.S. government to execute its own citizens, with no judicial process, overseas if they are accused of plotting terror attacks against America.
“In this hour of danger, we simply cannot afford to wait until deadly plans are carried out, and we will not,” he said in a speech at Northwestern University’s law school in Chicago.
Anwar al Awlaki, an American born Islamic cleric, and his sixteen year old son were killed in separate U.S. drone strikes in Yemen last September. Civil liberties groups condemned the attacks, while some members of Congress called for a explanation of how the killing of American civilians with no judicial process could be consistent with the U.S. Constitution.
The Fifth Amendment provides that no one can be “deprived of life” without due process of law. But that due process, Holder said, doesn’t necessarily come from a court.
“Due process and judicial process are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process,” the attorney general said.
Holder said a U.S. citizen can legally be targeted for assassination in a foreign country if that person is “a senior leader of Al-Qaida or associated forces,” and is actively involved in plans to kill Americans.
Any military operation targeting U.S. citizens overseas must be carried out under the law of war.
“The principle of humanity requires us to use weapons that will not inflict unnecessary suffering,” he said.
The ACLU called Holder’s explanation “a defense of the government’s chillingly broad claimed authority to conduct targeted killings of civilians, including American citizens, far from any battlefield without judicial review or public scrutiny.”
“Few things are as dangerous to American liberty as the proposition that the government should be able to kill citizens anywhere in the world on the basis of legal standards and evidence that are never submitted to a court, either before or after the fact,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.
“Anyone willing to trust President Obama with the power to secretly declare an American citizen an enemy of the state and order his extrajudicial killing should ask whether they would be willing to trust the next president with that dangerous power,” she said.
The ACLU is suing the Obama administration, seeking to have documents regarding the targeted killing program made public.