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Senators want more info on U.S. counter-terrorism policies

Policies that allow lethal targeting of U.S. citizens at issue during confirmation hearings

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A Justice Department white paper outlines legal rationale for use of deadly force against U.S. citizens.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A bipartisan group of U.S. senators, including Colorado Democrat Mark Udall, said this week they want more information on U.S. policies that permit the government to kill American citizens during counter-terrorism operations.

Udall joined Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) in asking President Obama for details of the secret legal opinions that enable the president to target Americans if, for example, they are working as operatives for Al Qa’ida.

In their Feb. 4 letter, the senators likened the situation to the Civil War, when President Lincoln had authority to order Union troops to fire on Confederate forces. They acknowledged that, if Americans choose to take up arms against their own country, that there is a justification for targeting them with deadly force.

The legal framework is described in a Department of Justice white paper that was obtained by NBC News. Essentially, it says that use of deadly force is justifiable if an American citizen represents an imminent threat of violent attack to the U.S. and if capture of that individual is infeasible, and if the operation is conducted consistent with war law principles.

Read the entire ‘white paper’ on drone strikes on Americans (courtesy NBC News).

But at the same time, the senators said Congress and American citizens have a right to know if that authority has been properly defined, and whether it’s subject to “appropriate limitations and safeguards.”

The authority has been used to authorize drone strikes against terrorist bases, but raises concerns among civil liberties advocates, who describe it as “extrajudicial killing” that may encroach on basic American civil and legal rights.

The senators stated that transparency on this issue will be important as the Senate considers national security nominees. The legal opinions authorizing the killing of Americans have remained mostly hidden from the general public and have been withheld from members of Congress.

“It is vitally important, however, for Congress and the American public to have a full understanding of how the executive branch interprets the limits and boundaries of this authority,” the senators wrote in the letter, “so that Congress and the public can decide whether this authority has been properly defined, and whether the President’s power to deliberately kill American citizens is subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards.”

Click HERE to read the letter.

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