A secretive panel of senior government officials, who are a subset of the White House’s National Security Council, can place Americans on a kill list, according to Reuters.
The panel was behind the decision to add Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born militant cleric with alleged al Qaeda connections, to the target list. He was killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen late last month.
According to several current and former officials, there is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel. Neither is there any law establishing its existence or rules by which it is supposed to operate. The role of the president in ordering or ratifying a decision to target an American citizen is fuzzy.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to discuss anything about the process.
Some details about how the administration went about targeting Awlaki emerged on Tuesday when Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), was asked by reporters about the killing.
The process involves “going through the National Security Council, then it eventually goes to the president, but the National Security Council does the investigation, they have lawyers, they review, they look at the situation, you have input from the military, and also, we make sure that we follow international law,” Ruppersberger said.
The White House is portraying the killing of Awlaki as a demonstration of President Barack Obama’s toughness toward terrorists, but Obama is being attacked by some on the left and right. Liberals have criticized the drone attack on an American citizen as extra-judicial murder.
Conservatives criticized Obama for refusing to release a Justice Department legal opinion that reportedly justified killing Awlaki. They accuse Obama of hypocrisy, noting his administration insisted on publishing Bush-era administration legal memos justifying the use of interrogation techniques many equate with torture, but refused to make public its rationale for killing a citizen without due process.
White House officials said Awlaki, whose sermons were widely circulated on militant websites, was targeted because the Obama administration had information that his role had gone “from inspirational to operational.” Instead of just propagandizing in favor of al Qaeda, Awlaki allegedly began to participate directly in plots against American targets.
Do you think the White House was within its legal rights to kill an American citizen? What about this secret panel, are we moving closer into George Orwell's '1984' or is it necessary to keep us safe?