CIA has authority to kill US citizens

Earlier this week I asked whether President Obama could order a lethal attack on former San Diego imam Anwar Awlaki.

The Washington Post’s Dana Priest has anwered that question today with a resounding yes:

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said.

The evidence has to meet a certain, defined threshold. The person, for instance, has to pose “a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests,” said one former intelligence official.

The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, “it doesn’t really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them,” a senior administration official said. “They are then part of the enemy.”

Both the CIA and the JSOC maintain lists of individuals, called “High Value Targets” and “High Value Individuals,” whom they seek to kill or capture. The JSOC list includes three Americans, including Awlaki, whose name was added late last year. As of several months ago, the CIA list included three U.S. citizens, and an intelligence official said that Aulaqi’s name has now been added.

Awlaki corresponded with alleged Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan before the attack that killed 12 soldiers, and investigators believe he also met with accused “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Ever since Awlaki’s December 2007 release from prison, U.S. counterterrorism officials have been warning us that he’s been involved in terrorism:

  • February 2008: “There is good reason to believe Anwar Awlaki has been involved in very serious terrorist activities since leaving the United States, including plotting attacks against America and our allies,” an anonymous U.S. counterterrorism official tells The Washington Post.
  • January 3, 2009: “Mr. Awlaki is a problem. He’s clearly a part of Al Qaida in Arabian Peninsula. He’s not just a cleric. He is in fact trying to instigate terrorism,” said John Brennan, deputy national security advisor for counterterrorism and homeland security.
  • January 20, 2009: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reports “Although Awlaki has not yet been accused of a crime, U.S. intelligence and military officials consider him to be a direct threat to U.S. interests.

(See my Awlaki timeline for more)

A reason that Awlaki hasn’t been blasted to smithereens already is due to the fact that he is a U.S. citizen, born in New Mexico while his father, a former Yemeni government minister, was there on a diplomatic posting.

Slate’s Glenn Greenwald notes that being accused of being a terrorist is not the same thing as actually being a terrorist.

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