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game of drones

DOJ memo reveals legal rationale for drone assassination of American citizen

After a protracted struggle with the Department of Justice over a FOIA request, Vice News has obtained a heavily redacted copy of a DOJ memo that provided legal rationale for the assassination by drone of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen killed in Yemen in 2011 without charge or trial. The memo, entitled "Legality of a Lethal Operation by the Central Intelligence Agency Against a U.S. Citizen," was originally paired with another white paper.

The newly released document's claims hinge in part on a controversial argument about the nature of CIA activity in wartime, because the 1942 SCOTUS ruling in Ex Parte Quirin labels un-uniformed combatants as "offender[s] against the law of war subject to trial and punishment by a military tribunal." In other words, a simpler reading of Ex Parte Quirin could render as war criminals the CIA officers responsible for the assassination. The memo also addresses constitutional issues, like the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process.

Two weeks after al-Awlaki was assassinated, his 16-year-old son — another American citizen who had not seen his father in two years and was not suspected of any criminal or terrorist activity — was also assassinated by American drone strike. Obama administration officials suggested the boy should have "had a more responsible father."

Read the full memo here.