A leak of a U.S. Justice Department memo has revealed some of the circumstances under which the U.S. government believes it has the right to extrajudicially execute American citizens (Michael Isikoff, “Justice Department memo reveals legal case for drone strikes on Americans,” NBC News, 4 February 2013):
The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects abroad, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes.
The Obama administration’s nominee for director of the CIA, John Brennan, faced questions about the drone killings policy when he appeared before the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence yesterday. But Brennan shed little light on the operation of the policy, the other circumstances under which such killings might be ordered, the administration’s arguments concerning the legality of such actions, or the U.S. drone-strike program in general (Mark Mazzetti & Scott Shane, “Drones Are Focus as C.I.A. Nominee Goes Before Senators,” New York Times, 7 February 2013).
For background information on the U.S. drone program, see Cora Currier’s article, “Everything We Know So Far About Drone Strikes” (ProPublica.org, 11 January 2013).
The Canadian Government is — slowly — pursuing the acquisition of its own drones with “all-weather precision strike capabilities” through its Joint Uninhabited Surveillance and Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS) program. While there will probably be very little resemblance between the U.S. drone program and whatever Canada eventually acquires (aside from, possibly, some of the same models of drone), similar issues about where, when, and how to operate them are likely to sometimes arise. What policies will the Harper government put in place regarding the use of armed drones?
Photo credit: US Air Force