White House 'Hit List' of Americans in Yemen: Is It Legal?

The White House has approved killing three U.S. citizens suspected of joining al-Qaeda in Yemen

This article is from the archive of our partner .

U.S. military and intelligence officials are helping Yemeni forces run extensive counterterrorism operations across Yemen's war-torn west, the Washington Post reports. Americans, primarily from the shadowy Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), provide weapons and guidance. Their mission, approved by President Obama, focuses on finding and killing al-Qaeda and other terrorists.

One controversial aspect of the story is the decision to target U.S. citizens. In 2002, the CIA killed an American working with al-Qaeda in Yemen, setting a precedent that President Obama's administration has embraced. A joint CIA-JSOC "hit list" in Yemen includes three American citizens.  Once an American joins al-Qaeda, the White House argues, he or she becomes an enemy combatant and can be killed. Are they right?

  • What If We're Wrong About 'Suspected' Terrorists? Legal blogger Marcy Wheeler points out that we have due process for a reason. "Of course, they said Jose Padilla had close ties to al Qaeda, but those turned out to be more tenuous than originally claimed. Likewise the case against John Walker Lindh," she writes. "But I guess the tenuousness of those ties don't really matter, when the President can dial up the assassination of an American citizen."
  • Assassinating Americans Is Illegal Salon's Glenn Greenwald seethes at the "lawless assassinations aimed at our own citizens."
Barack Obama, like George Bush before him, has claimed the authority to order American citizens murdered based solely on the unverified, uncharged, unchecked claim that they are associated with Terrorism and pose 'a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests.' They're entitled to no charges, no trial, no ability to contest the accusations.
  • Where Is the Line? The Atlantic Council's James Joyner retorts, "if said accused terrorist were located within the borders of the United States, it would be clearly illegal to simply assassinate him." However, the U.S. regularly assassinates foreign terrorists in places like Pakistan and Yemen, to little protest. "Would it make any difference if the accused terrorist had American citizenship? I'm not so sure." Joyner concedes, "it's not at all clear where the line should be drawn."
  • Slippery Slope The Agonist's Sean Paul Kelley provides a worst-case scenario. "How long until more Americans, say leftists who are working in Latin America against US corporate interests are branded 'terrorists?' The slippery slope is getting ever more slippery every day."
  • Do Legal Concerns Prevent Killing Terrorists? ABC News repeats concerns by anonymous officials, who worry that questions over the legality of killing Americans in al-Qaeda could make it difficult for the U.S. to take out valuable targets. They cite Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born al-Qaeda associate. "One of the people briefed said opportunities to 'take out' Awlaki 'may have been missed' because of the legal questions surrounding a lethal attack which would specifically target an American citizen." Awlaki, ABC notes, has been charged with no crimes under U.S. law, which raises major legal concerns over targeting him.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.