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ACLU to Obama: No, You Can't Just Murder an American Overseas

Responding to news reporting, civil liberty group say White House "killing program has gone far beyond what the law permits"

Jon Queally

An Associated Press story published Monday cites unnamed U.S. government officials saying the Obama administration is considering its options for assassinating an American citizen it accuses of being involved in terrorism.

According to AP, "one U.S. official said the Defense Department was divided over whether the man"--said to be affiliated with Al-Qaida and engaged in alleged terrorist plots--"is dangerous enough to merit the potential domestic fallout of killing an American without charging him with a crime or trying him." However, the report continues: "the Pentagon did ultimately decide to recommend lethal action."

But the ACLU, which is fighting an ongoing legal battle with the White House over the CIA and Pentagon's use of drones and Obama's secretive assassination program, responded to the leaked details of the internal deliberations by issuing a serious warning against an attempted assassination.

“The government’s killing program has gone far beyond what the law permits, and it is based on secret evidence and legal interpretations," said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project. "The targeted killing of an American being considered right now shows the inherent danger of a killing program based on vague and shifting legal standards, which has made it disturbingly easy for the government to operate outside the law."

According to the ACLU and other critics, Obama's targeted killing program operates with virtually no oversight outside the executive branch. Though the "leaks" given to AP appear to be designed to show that the White House is having serious internal legal deliberations, those opposed to the targeting killing argue that the Obama administration, even with increased transparency, could not possibly justify a program in which due process is withheld from those facing an extrajudicial death sentence.

"Outside of armed conflict zones," according to the ACLU, "the Constitution and international law prohibit the use of lethal force unless it is used as a last resort against a concrete, specific, and imminent threat of grave harm. Even in the context of an armed conflict against an armed group, the government may use lethal force only against individuals who are directly participating in hostilities against the United States."

Moreover, citing new reporting by Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald about the unreliable way in which the U.S. military creates an intelligence framework for targeting individuals for drone attacks, Shamsi says the revelations show why no president--current or future--should be entrusted with this kind of lethal authority.

"The fact that the government is relying so heavily on limited and apparently unreliable intelligence only heightens our concerns about a disastrous program in which people have been wrongly killed and injured," she said. "Today's revelations come as the administration continues to fight against even basic transparency about the thousands of people who have died in this lethal program, let alone accountability for the wrongful killings of U.S. citizens.”

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