Four U.S. citizens have been killed by drones overseas since President Barack Obama first took office in 2009. Now, according to the Washington Post, the government is contemplating using a drone to kill another U.S. citizen who has been accused of being an Al-Qaeda facilitator.
The issue of targeting an American is one the most divisive, controversial issues Obama has faced in his entire presidency.
According to multiple sources who spoke with the New York Times, the U.S. citizen at the center of this drone-attack debate “has been directly responsible for deadly attacks against U.S. citizens overseas and who continues to plan attacks against them that would use improvised explosive devices.” The Justice Department began investigating him last fall.
The Department of Defense, however, is unsure whether the individual in question poses enough of an “imminent threat” to kill him without first granting him a trial in court.
The government has to deal with new policies that were enacted last year, which are changing the way these orders could be carried out.
While the CIA controls some aspects of America’s drone program, it is barred from issuing strikes against U.S. citizens. Thus, if the military is looking to execute a strike against a U.S. citizen, the Department of Justice must first prove its case against the insurgent; this is a crucial step that has not yet been completed.
Accounts differ on where the Pentagon currently stands on the issue – while some say that the Pentagon has already authorized it, others have stated that the Pentagon is divided over the matter, particularly in terms of the domestic fallout that could be caused by killing an American without charging or trying him first. Additionally, the international fallout “of such an operation in a country that has been resistant to US action” is an issue that must be seriously considered.
While the potential target’s identity has remained undisclosed, his location is said to be “well-guarded” and “fairly remote,” which greatly complicates and reduces the chances of the execution of a ground attack.
Although a series of stops exist in this scenario’s execution of a drone strike, a source has said that Obama “could make an exception to his policy and authorize the CIA to strike on a onetime basis or authorize the Pentagon to act despite the possible objections of the country in question.”
Hina Shamsi, irector of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, issued a statement on the “inherent danger of a killing program based on vague and shifting legal standards.” Shamsi described the system as one in which it is “disturbingly easy for the government to operate outside the law.”
Of the four other American citizens killed abroad by drones, the administration has acknowledged that three weren’t intended to be executed. They were killed “incidentally,” and as the result of strikes waged against others.
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