John Brennan has joined a small group of government voices discussing using America's military power against American citizens. I have been particularly interested in this topic, as I think it represents a huge shift of military focus since the Civil War, and because I think this shift will continue. Jake Tapper discussed targeting Americans at the White House and asked some outstanding questions, and recently we have seen the Pentagon's top lawyer and the Attorney General weigh in on the discussion. Most recently, John Brennan joined the discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Among his comments:
Earlier this year, Attorney General Holder discussed how our counterterrorism efforts are rooted in, and are strengthened by, adherence to the law, including the legal authorities that allow us to pursue members of al-Qa’ida—including U.S. citizens—and to do so using “technologically advanced weapons.”Mr. Brennan also stated:
In addition, Jeh Johnson, the general counsel at the Department of Defense, has addressed the legal basis for our military efforts against al-Qa’ida. Stephen Preston, the general counsel at the CIA, has discussed how the Agency operates under U.S. law. These speeches build on a lecture two years ago by Harold Koh, the State Department Legal Adviser, who noted that “U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war.”
When that person is a U.S. citizen, we ask ourselves additional questions. Attorney General Holder has already described the legal authorities that clearly allow us to use lethal force against an American citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida. He has discussed the thorough and careful review, including all relevant constitutional considerations, that is to be undertaken by the U.S. government when determining whether the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.I strongly disagree with the legal "arguments" being systematically peddled. I have previously blogged about my legal understanding of assassinating American citizens here.
To recap, the standards and processes I’ve described today—which we have refined and strengthened over time—reflect our commitment to: ensuring the individual is a legitimate target under the law; determining whether the individual poses a significant threat to U.S. interests; determining that capture is not feasible; being mindful of the important checks on our ability to act unilaterally in foreign territories; having that high degree of confidence, both in the identity of the target and that innocent civilians will not be harmed; and, of course, engaging in additional review if the al-Qa’ida terrorist is a U.S. citizen.