American Civil Liberties Union has sent a strongly-worded letter to
President Barack Obama, asking him to end an alleged program that
allows 'targeted killings' of terror suspects outside of war zones.
In the letter
(PDF), the civil liberties group argues that the alleged program --
which, according to news reports, is now targeting at least one US
citizen -- is unlawful and unconstitutional, and could set a dangerous
precedent leading to foreign governments killing people on US soil.
program that you have reportedly authorized appears to envision the use
of lethal force not just on the battlefield in Iraq, Afghanistan, or
even the Pakistani border regions, but anywhere in the world, including
against individuals who may not constitute lawful targets," ACLU
Executive Director Anthony Romero stated in the letter.
entire world is not a war zone, and wartime tactics that may be
permitted on the battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be
deployed anywhere in the world where a terrorism suspect happens to be
Romero's letter came the same day as a House foreign affairs subcommittee convened to probe
the legal issues surrounding the use of targeted killings. It also
comes in the wake of a series of news reports suggesting the US's use
of targeted killings has expanded significantly in recent months.
In February, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair announced that the United States may target its own citizens abroad for death if it believes they are associated with terrorist groups.
take direct action against terrorists in the intelligence community,"
Blair told the House Intelligence Committee. He said US
counter-terrorism officials may try to kill American citizens embroiled
in extremist groups overseas with "specific permission" from higher up.
If "we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that," Blair said.
Earlier this month, news reports indicated
that Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, was added to
the CIA's list of alleged terrorists the US has targeted to kill.
was born in New Mexico and served for years as an imam in the United
States. He has not been charged with a crime, but was linked by US
officials to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the psychiatrist alleged to have
killed 13 at an Army base in Fort Hood, as well as Nigerian Umar Farouk
Abdulmutallab, the so-called "Christmas day" bomber who attempted to
detonate a jetliner en route to Detroit.
"Such a program of
long-premeditated and bureaucratized killing is plainly not limited to
targeting genuinely imminent threats," Romero wrote in his letter. "Any
such program is far more sweeping than the law allows and raises grave
constitutional and human rights concerns."
Romero argued that the
alleged program could set a dangerous precedent for other nations,
which could result in foreign governments killing US citizens on home
The program you have reportedly endorsed is not
simply illegal but also unwise, because how our country responds to the
threat of terrorism will in large measure determine the rules that
govern every nation's conduct in similar contexts. If the United States
claims the authority to use lethal force against suspected enemies of
the U.S. anywhere in the world - using unmanned drones or other means -
then other countries will regard that conduct as justified. The
prospect of foreign governments hunting and killing their enemies
within our borders or those of our allies is abhorrent.
ACLU is not alone in attacking the program as unlawful. Constitutional
law professor Jonathan Turley said in February that the program raises
"This is something that President Bush developed," Turley explained.
"We actually saw the Bush administration kill an American citizen named
Kamal Derwish in 2002 with a Predator strike. ... The Obama
administration, once again, seems to be morphing into the Bush