‘These strikes are legal, they are ethical and they are wise,’ White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.
He declined to discuss in detail a newly disclosed Justice Department memo saying only that the target must be involved in ongoing plotting against the United States for a strike to be justified.
The White House is declining to explain its criteria for directing drone attacks against American citizens working abroad with terrorists
Drone force: The U.S. government can legally order the killing of American citizens if they have senior-level ties to al-Qaida
He said President Barack Obama takes seriously his responsibility to protect the United States and its citizens and that great care is taken to avoid the loss of innocent lives.
Controversy over U.S. drone policy mushroomed after a September 2011 drone strike in Yemen killed two American citizens.
The newly revealed memo, which is not an official legal document, sheds new light on the reasoning behind a reported increase in the number of drone strikes used against Al Qaeda suspects in recent years — including those aimed at American citizens — under the Obama administration.
The undated memo, ‘Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qa’ida or An Associated Force,’ was reportedly provided to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees in June by unnamed administration officials.
It was provided on the condition that authorities keep the memo confidential and not discuss its contents publicly, according to NBC.
‘The condition that an operational leader present an “imminent” threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,’ the memo states.
Insight: The document sheds new light on the legal reasoning behind a reported increase in the number of drone strikes used against al-Qaida suspects in recent years, including those aimed at American citizens
The Justice Department told MailOnline that it would not comment on the news.
The Obama administration has remained relatively hush about reports of increased drone strikes carried out since 2008.
The Long War Journal reports that the U.S. has been conducting a covert program to target and kill Al Qaeda and Taliban commanders in Pakistan’s northwest region.
‘The US ramped up the number of strikes in July 2008, and has continued to regularly hit at Taliban and Al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan,’ the non-profit news outlet writes.
‘There have been 332 strikes total since the program began in 2004; 322 of those strikes have taken place since January 2008.’
The New York Times reported in November that the Obama administration had been mapping out a strategy weeks before the presidential election to develop definitive rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by drones, so that a new president would ‘inherit clear standards and procedures’ if Obama was not re-elected.
The secrecy surrounding such strikes may soon be unraveled, as indicated by the release of the 16-page Justice Department memo.
Proponent: John Brennan, Obama’s pick for CIA director, has called drone strikes ‘consistent with our inherent right of national self-defense’
John Brennan, a White House counter-terrorism adviser, one of the leading architects behind the government’s drone policy and Obama’s pick to become the country’s new CIA director, is expected to face tough questions about his involvement in Obama’s drone program during his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday.
Brennan was the first administration official to formally acknowledge drone strikes in a speech he gave at the Woodrow Wilson Center in April 2012, calling drone strikes ‘consistent with our inherent right of national self-defense.’
A bipartisan group of 11 senators wrote a letter to Obama on Monday asking his administration to provide its legal justification for its use of drone strikes over the past four years.
‘We ask that you direct the Justice Department to provide Congress, specifically the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, with any and all legal opinions that lay out the executive branch’s official understanding of the President’s authority to deliberately kill American citizens,’ the senators led by Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote in their letter.
Political blogger Marcy Wheeler, who says she has closely tracked the group’s repeated requests, writes that it was at least the 12th time Congress had asked for those documents.
Among the overseas attacks that have killed U.S. citizens with terrorist ties on Obama’s watch, a September 2011 missile strike in Yemen took out alleged Al Qaeda members Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan.
Both men were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government or charged with any specific crimes.
Read the full Justice Department white paper released on Monday night here.
Demanding disclosure: a bipartisan group of 11 senators lead by Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote a letter to Obama on Monday asking his administration to provide its legal justification for its use of drone strikes over the past four years