In his most forceful defense yet of the Obama administration’s use of lethal force againstU.S.Â citizens linked to terrorism, Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday that the Constitution does not protect U.S. suspects plotting to kill other Americans.
Holder said in a speech at the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago that the government is within its rights to kill citizens who are senior leaders in al-Qaeda or affiliate groups who pose an “imminent threat” of attack against theÂ USAÂ and whose capture is “not feasible.”
“Given the nature of how terrorists act and where they tend to hide, it may not always be feasible to capture a U.S. citizen terrorist who presents an imminent threat of violent attack,” Holder said, according to a text of his speech. “In that case, our government has the clear authority to defend theÂ United StatesÂ with lethal force.”
The attorney general’s remarks come as civil rights advocates have condemned such killings, including the fatal military drone strike in September against Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born leader of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen. U.S. government officials have asserted that al-Awlaki helped direct the failedÂ Christmas DayÂ bombing of a commercial airliner over Detroit in 2009 and the failed effort to blow up U.S. cargo planes with explosives planted in printer cartridges in 2010.
Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said that although Holder’s speech represented “a gesture towards additional transparency, it is ultimately a defense of the government’s chillingly broad claimed authority to conduct targeted killings of civilians, including American citizens.”
“Few things are as dangerous to American liberty as the proposition that the government should be able to kill citizens anywhere in the world on the basis of legal standards and evidence that are never submitted to a court, either before or after the fact,” Shamsi said.
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