The DOJ’s Case for Drone Strikes on Americans

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Michael Isikoff at NBC News made headlines last night when he revealed a leaked white paper from the Department of Justice outlining the legal case for using drones to kill American citizens if they are “senior operational leaders” in al Qaida or another terrorist organization — even if they have not been convicted of a crime. Isikoff writes:

The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects abroad, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes.

On last weekend’s episode of Moyers & Company, Bill spoke with Vicki Divoll and Vincent Warren — two experts on civil liberties during wartime — about the ethics and legality of drone strikes and targeted killings. Divoll, a former general counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and former deputy legal adviser to the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center, focused on the legality of the targeted killing of American citizens. She told Bill she finds the attacks very troubling.

“[S]ometimes our enemy doesn’t fight fairly,” Divoll said. “That does not give us the right to do the same. Just because the enemy is ugly and vicious and does awful things does not allow you to do the same.” Divoll explains her work on the targeted killing of Americans in this clip from her interview.

Later today, we’ll post a follow up with Divoll’s reaction to the leaked memo and her analysis of its contents.

In the meantime, check out Bill’s interview with Divoll and Warren, an interactive timeline comparing Bush and Obama on wartime civil liberties, our interactive charts on casualties from covert drone operations and our Q&A on “just war theory” in an age of terrorism.

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  • Foye Lowe

    Now are we sure that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander? And are we clear as to who will play the role of the goose, and who of the gander? And is tit-for-tat a universal and reciprocal rule for behavior?

  • Kathie Brobeck

    End those Hellish Drone strikes. Come on, Sri Obama. It’s too much like your predecessor Bush’s behavior. Quit it. Innocent people are being killed!!!!

  • ellen pierce

    As a human being i am insulted that this issue centers around American targets only. war is hell. i guess the critics think assualt weapons, for American citizens, are good thing too. Screwed up world.

  • Gina de Miranda

    This is horrifying. It is time to impeach THE ENTIRE GOVERNMENT.

  • Donald Shank

    We have been killing both combatants and “collateral” non-combatants from the sky for years.
    Now the administration is claiming that drone strikes can be used
    against American citizens without any evidence that they pose an
    imminent threat, and that this doesn’t require a presidential order, only the approval of “senior officials”. So the legal standard for when your government can kill you without
    trial has been lowered to “he was looking at me funny”? The right
    wingers rage about tyranny when we debate gun magazine capacity, but
    don’t raise a peep about torture, secret prisons, warrentless wiretaps
    and extrajudicial assassination. Because a fat redneck in a camo costume
    will be much more effective than a democratic system of checks and
    balances in preserving our liberty.

  • Sean D Ferris


    They say that drones are in the sky

    Watching me I wonder why?

    Did I jay walk today

    Or run a red light on my way

    My words maybe of a terrorist

    But fearing me you surely jest

    No investigation or charge

    No Bolo or he’s at large

    No trial by my peers

    As the targets body seers

    Its 20th century war

    What’s Big Brother have in store?

  • Karen Bunn

    I’m not sure that conventional war was/is any better. Seems to me it may cause even more casualties; many of them ours.

  • Anonymous

    At last, an explanation of what happened in Benghazi.
    They used to protect US citizens abroad, now they mark them for death.

  • Strawman411

    One more time:

    “First they came for the communists,

    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

    Then they came for the socialists,

    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,

    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    Then they came for me,

    and there was no one left to speak for me.”

    ~Martin Niemöller

  • Anonymous

    Hows that democracy working out for you? Last I checked we elected the peace candidate, twice.

  • Anonymous

    And this is where the left right illusion kills us. The people on the left are mad at the people on the right because they weren’t against this when Bush was doing it instead of being mad at the guy murdering people. This is why the libertarians are right, they were against this when Bush was doing it and they are still against it when Obama does it.

  • Waymajor

    CSNY should do a song with these lyrics.

  • Anonymous

    Taxes fund this sorta thing, that is a big part of the reason most libertarians don’t like them. In terms of economics most libertarians I know are much closer to the Austrian school while most conservatives seem to be Neo-Keynesians with a few monetrists thrown in.

  • Anonymous

    By WW2 standards we are doing an amazing job not destroying entire cities and killing millions of civilians. But this is sotra like debating what kind of cancer is better.

  • NotARedneck

    At least after we occupied Nazi Germany (and stated more than 5 years) we were able to destroy this cancer. Current methods just spread it!

  • NotARedneck

    “Taxes fund this sorta thing, that is a big part of the reason most libertarians don’t like them.”

    That’s why economic libertarians always seem to come from the RepubliCON party? The party of war and subsidies to the military industrial complex since they repudiated Eisenhower’s sage advice from 1960.

    People MUST understand that we’ve just come through the corrupt Bush era, when things were more libertarian than since the Guilded Era. Didn’t work out so well, did it?

    The FACT is, MORE control is needed to rebuild the economy. Taxes need to be very high on speculation and only should be lowered when the wealthy make REAL investment. Unfortunately, 99% of the wealthy are now so lazy, corrupt and used to easy speculative gains, that they would find this impossible.