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Franken asks Obama to justify airstrikes against Americans

The senators wrote, “there will clearly be circumstances” in which the president can order the killing of a citizen, though they wanted to know how the administration justifies it legally.

“It is vitally important, however, for Congress and the American public to have a full understanding of how the executive branch interprets the limits and boundaries of this authority,” the letter read, “so that Congress and the public can decide whether this authority has been properly defined, and whether the President’s power to deliberately kill American citizens is subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards.” 

On Monday, NBC News published a leaked Justice Department memo that examined the legal boundaries for such strikes. The attacks are permissible, according to the memo, if, “an ‘informed, high-level’ official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American has been ‘recently’ involved in ‘activities’ posing a threat of a violent attack and ‘there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.’”

According to the report:

The confidential memo lays out a three-part test that would make targeted killings of American lawful: In addition to the suspect being an imminent threat, capture of the target must be “infeasible, and the strike must be conducted according to “law of war principles.” But the memo elaborates on some of these factors in ways that go beyond what the attorney general said publicly. For example, it states that U.S. officials may consider whether an attempted capture of a suspect would pose an “undue risk” to U.S. personnel involved in such an operation. If so, U.S. officials could determine that the capture operation of the targeted American would not be feasible, making it lawful for the U.S. government to order a killing instead, the memo concludes.

Obama’s use of drone strikes is well documented and quite controversial, especially among civil liberties groups and liberals in Congress. Rep. Keith Ellison, for example, penned a Washington Post op-ed questioning the administration’s broader drone strikes policy, not just those targeting American citizens.

The senators’ letter originated from Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden. Its signers range the ideological spectrum, from conservatives like Mike Lee, R-Utah, to high-ranking Democrats Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Patrick Leahy (Vt.) The letter comes days before the Senate Intelligence Committee holds confirmation hearings for John Brennan, Obama’s nominee to lead the CIA.

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