People talk to human rights activists next to debris left by a U.S. drone air strike that targeted suspected al Qaeda militants in August 2012, in the al-Qatn district of the southeastern Yemeni province of Hadhramout February 5, 2013. U.S. drones have launched almost daily raids on suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen during the past two weeks, and air strikes have aggravated discontent among Yemenis, who say the strikes pose a threat to civilians. (Photo : Reuters)
A newly revealed memo from the Department of Justice claims that the Obama administration has the authority to target and order the killing of Americans suspected to be "senior operational leaders" of al-Qaeda or "an associated force." The 16-page memo, which was obtained by NBC News exclusively, gives details over the administration's use of drone strikes to target al-Qaeda members abroad.
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According to the memo an "informed, high-level official" can order the strike against an al-Qaeda official, even one that is an American citizen, and that they do not need evidence that the al-Qaeda official is "planning a specific operation," the Los Angeles Times reported.
"An 'imminent' threat of violent attack against the United States does not require...clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future," the policy memo stated.
Instead, the "white paper" states that the "informed, high-level" official can order the attack on an American that has been "recently" involved in "activities" posing a threat of a violent attack and that "there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities," NBC News reported.
The memo offers a slightly different stance than that suggested by the administration in past statements. According to the LA Times, President Obama said that his administration would authorize an attack to respond to "a threat that is serious and not speculative."
"It has to be a situation in which we can't capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States," the president said during an interview with CNN.
The memo's release comes just days before White House aid John Brennan is set to appear in a confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on his way to becoming the next CIA director. A senior Democratic aide on the committee told the LA Times, "If anything, I would argue it's [the memo] a helpful thing, in that it removes some mystery and conspiracy theories."
According to the LA Times, the lack of major backlash over the paper reveals widespread public support for the drone strikes. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in June found that 62 percent of Americans approved the strikes, while a Washington Post-ABC News poll last February found that 83 percent of Americans approved.
The confidential memo, entitled "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qa'ida or An Associated Force," is not an offical legal memo, NBC News reported.