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I said in my filibuster post that I’ll not rest when the task of exposing liars and hypocrites requires constant vigilance, or something to that effect. With that in mind, I’m afraid I’ll have to keep harping on the same thing over and over.

The letter above from Holder to Paul is an example. The DOJ white paper letter, also from Holder’s department, clearly contradicts this letter to Paul. In fact, the letter to Sen. Paul is worthless. It’s only telling us what we already knew. The administration didn’t concede anything and Sen. Paul didn’t win anything. Here are the facts.

We are conducting a war on terror. There is no Congressional declaration of war against a foreign nation because terrorism is global including here in America. Congress granted the President full authority to use whatever means necessary to protect the United States, its people and its interests from the threat of terrorism by passing the AUMF. If an American citizen sides with the enemy, they become an enemy combatant. They can now legally be killed anywhere at any time.

Accordingly, in a wartime environment, due process rights of American citizens are null and void. This is anywhere on the globe and regardless of your status as a citizen. The DOJ white paper (which I’ll include in its entirety at the end of this post) lays out the legal authority that Congress extended to the President for using lethal force against an American anywhere on the globe and, this is key, regardless of whether or not they pose an imminent threat. There are other pre-conditions laid out to qualify one as a terrorist threat. If they are met, the suspect is considered at all times an imminent threat and can be killed anywhere at any time if the pre-conditions are met as they are all taken together as a whole.

Now, Americans may not like this and question its constitutionality. That’s an issue to take up with Congress and not the President as the SCOTUS isn’t likely to involve itself and settle the issue.

The Holder response letter to Paul specifies “an American not engaged in combat”. In other words, just a guy on the street. That’s never been an issue and no one contests it. Of course no President has any authority to kill an American not engaged in combat.

There are two distinct areas of confusion. The definition of enemy combatant and imminent. The AUMF settles the enemy combatant definition. The DOJ white paper is the Obama administrations interpretation of its authority and defines imminent.

Sen. Paul is asking if an American citizen has become an enemy combatant for whatever reason and they are on U.S. soil, can they be killed without showing any outward sign of a imminent threat? Holder did not answer that question. The white paper below says that yes is the answer.

You can also go here to read the document so it isn’t in a WordPress format – http://www.fas.org/irp/eprint/doj-lethal.pdf

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE WHITE PAPER
Draft November 8, 2011
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
This white paper sets forth a legal framework for considering the circumstances in
which the U.S. government could use lethal force in a foreign country outside the area of
active hostilities against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or
an associated force1 of al-Qa’ida-that is, an al-Qa’ida leader actively engaged in
planning operations to kill Americans. The paper does not attempt to determine the
minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful; nor does it assess
what might be required to render a lethal operation against a U.S. citizen lawful in other
circumstances, including an operation against enemy forces on a traditional battlefield or
an operation against a U.S. citizen who is not a senior operational leader of such forces.
Here the Department of Justice concludes only that where the following three conditions
are met, a U.S. operation using lethal force in a foreign country against a U.S. citizen
who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force would be lawful:
(1) an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the
targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States;
(2) capture is infeasible, and the United States continues to monitor whether capture
becomes feasible; and (3) the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with
applicable law of war principles. This conclusion is reached with recognition of the
extraordinary seriousness of a lethal operation by the United States against a U.S. citizen,
and also of the extraordinary seriousness of the threat posed by senior operational alQa’ida
members and the loss of life that would result were their operations successful.
The President has authority to respond to the imminent threat posed by al-Qa’ida
and its associated forces, arising from his constitutional responsibility to protect the
country, the inherent right of the United States to national self defense under international
law, Congress’s authorization of the use of all necessary and appropriate military force
against this enemy, and the existence of an armed conflict with al-Qa’ida under
international law. Based on these authorities, the President may use force against alQa’ida
and its associated forces. As detailed in this white paper, in defined
circumstances, a targeted killing of a U.S. citizen who has joined al-Qa’ida or its
associated forces would be lawful under U.S. and international law. Targeting a member
of an enemy force who poses an imminent threat ofviolent attack to the United States is
not unlawful. It is a lawful act of national self defense. Nor would it violate otherwise
applicable federal laws barring unlawful killings in Title 18 or the assassination ban in
Executive Order No. 12333. Moreover, a lethal operation in a foreign nation would be
consistent with international legal principles of sovereignty and neutrality if it were
conducted, for example, with the consent of the host nation’s government or after a
1 An associated force of al-Qa’ida includes a group that would qualify as a co-belligerent under the
laws of war. See Ham!ily v. Obama, 616 F. Supp. 2d 63, 74-75 (D.D.C. 2009) (authority to detain extends
to ‘”associated forces,”‘ which “mean ‘co-belligerents’ as that term is understood under the laws of war”).
determination that the host nation is unable or unwilling to suppress the threat posed by
the individual targeted.
Were thy target of a lethal operation a U.S. citizen who may have rights under the
Due Process Clause and the Fourth Amendment, that individual’s citizenship would not
immunize him from a lethal operation. Under the traditional due process balancing
analysis of Mathews v. Eldridge, we recognize that there is no private interest more
weighty than a person’s interest in his life. But that interest must be balanced against the
United States’ interest in forestalling the threat of violence and death to other Americans
that arises from an individual who is a senior operational leader of al-Q’aida or an
associated force of al-Q’aida and who is engaged in plotting against the United States.
The paper begins with a brief summary of the authority for the use of force in the
situation described here, including the authority to target a U.S. citizen having the
characteristics described above with lethal force outside the area of active hostilities. It
continues with the constitutional questions, considering first whether a lethal operation
against such a U.S. citizen would be consistent with the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process
Clause, U.S. Const. amend. V. As part of the due process analysis, the paper explains the
concepts of “imminence,” feasibility of capture, and compliance with applicable law of
war principles. The paper then discusses whether such an operation would be consistent
with the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable seizures, U.S. Const. amend.
IV. It concludes that where certain conditions are met, a lethal operation against a U.S.
citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces-a terrorist
organization engaged in constant plotting against the United States, as well as an enemy
force with which the United States is in a congressionally authorized armed conflict-and
who himself poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States, would
not violate the Constitution. The paper also includes an analysis concluding that such an
operation would not violate certain criminal provisions prohibiting the killing of U.S.
nationals outside the United States; nor would it constitute either the commission of a war
crime or an assassination prohibited by Executive Order 12333.
I.
The United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qa’ida and its associated forces,
and Congress has authorized the President to use all necessary and appropriate force
against those entities. See Authorization for Use of Military Force (“AUMF”), Pub. L.
No. 107-40, § 2(a), 115 Stat. 224, 224 (2001). In addition to the authority arising from
the AUMF, the President’s use of force against al-Qa’ida and associated forces is lawful
under other principles of U.S. and international law, including the President’s
constitutional responsibility to protect the nation and the inherent right to national selfdefense
recognized in international law (see, e.g., U.N. Charter art. 51). It was on these
bases that the United States responded to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and “[t]hese
domestic and international legal authorities continue to this day.” Harold Hongju Koh,
Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State, Address to the Annual Meeting ofthe
American Society of International Law: The Obama Administration and International
Law (Mar. 25, 2010) (“2010 Koh ASIL Speech”).
2
Any operation of the sort discussed here would be conducted in a foreign country
against a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces who poses an
imminent threat of violent attack against the United States. A use of force under such
circumstances would be justified as an act of national self-defense. In addition, such a
person would be within the core of individuals against whom Congress has authorized the
use of necessary and appropriate force. The fact that such a person would also be a U.S.
citizen would not alter this conclusion. The Supreme Court has held that the military
may constitutionally use force against a U.S. citizen who is a part of enemy forces. See
Hamdi, 542 U.S. 507, 518 (2004) (plurality opinion); id. at 587, 597 (Thomas, J.,
dissenting); Ex Parte Quirin, 317 U.S. at 37-38. Like the imposition of military
detention, the use of lethal force against such enemy forces is an “important incident of
war.” Hamdi, 542 U.S. at 518 (plurality opinion) (quotation omitted). See, e.g., General
Orders No. 100: Instructions for the Government of Armies ofthe United States in the
Field~ 15 (Apr. 24, 1863) (“[m]ilitary necessity admits of all direct destruction oflife or
limb of armed enemies”) (emphasis omitted); International Committee of the Red Cross,
Commentary on the Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 12
Aug. 1949 and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed
Conflicts (Additional Protocol II) § 4789 (1987) (“Those who belong to armed forces or
armed groups may be attacked at any time.”); Y oram Dinstein, The Conduct of Hostilities
Under the Law of International Armed Conflict 94 (2004) (“When a person takes up arms
or merely dons a uniform as a member of the armed forces, he automatically exposes
himself to enemy attack.”). Accordingly, the Department does not believe that U.S.
citizenship would immunize a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or its associated
forces from a use of force abroad authorized by the AUMF or in national self-defense.
In addition, the United States retains its authority to use force against al-Qa’ida
and associated forces outside the area of active hostilities when it targets a senior
operational leader of the enemy forces who is actively engaged in planning operations to
kill Americans. The United States is currently in a non-international armed conflict with
al-Qa’ida and its associated forces. See Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557, 628-31
(2006) (holding that a conflict between a nation and a transnational non-state actor,
occurring outside the nation’s territory, is an armed conflict “not of an international
character” (quoting Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions) because it is not a
“clash between nations”). Any U.S. operation would be part of this non-international
armed conflict, even if it were to take place away from the zone of active hostilities. See
John 0. Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism,
Remarks at the Program on Law and Security, Harvard Law School: Strengthening Our
Security by Adhering to Our Values and Laws (Sept. 16, 2011) (“The United States does
not view our authority to use military force against al-Qa’ida as being restricted solely to
‘hot’ battlefields like Afghanistan.”). For example, the AUMF itself does not set forth an
express geographic limitation on the use of force it authorizes. See Hamdan, 548 U.S. at
631 (Kennedy, J., concurring) (what makes a non-international armed conflict distinct
from an international armed conflict is “the legal status of the entities opposing each
other”). None of the three branches of the U.S. Government has identified a strict
geographical limit on the permissible scope ofthe AUMF’s authorization. See, e.g.,
3
Letter for the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of
the Senate from the President (June 15, 2010) (reporting that the armed forces, with the
assistance of numerous international partners, continue to conduct operations “against alQa’ida
terrorists,” and that the United States has “deployed combat-equipped forces to a
number oflocations in the U.S. Central … Command area[] of operation in support of
those [overseas counter-terrorist] operations”); Bensayah v. Obama, 610 F.3d 718, 720,
724-25, 727 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (concluding that an individual turned over to the United
States in Bosnia could be detained if the government demonstrates he was part of alQa’ida);
al-Adahi v. Obama, 613 F.3d 1102, 1003, 1111 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (noting
authority under AUMF to detain individual apprehended by Pakistani authorities in
Pakistan and then transferred to U.S. custody).
Claiming that for purposes of international law, an armed conflict generally exists
only when there is “protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and
organized armed groups,” Prosecutor v. Tadic, Case No. IT-94-1AR72, Decision on the
Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction, ,-r 70 (Int’l Crim. Trib. for the
Former Yugoslavia, App. Chamber Oct. 2, 1995), some commenters have suggested that
the conflict between the United States and al-Qa’ida cannot lawfully extend to nations
outside Afghanistan in which the level of hostilities is less intense or prolonged than in
Afghanistan itself. See, e.g., Mary Ellen O’Connell, Combatants and the Combat Zone,
43 U. Rich. L. Rev. 845, 857-59 (2009). There is little judicial or other authoritative
precedent that speaks directly to the question of the geographic scope of a noninternational
armed conflict in which one of the parties is a transnational, non-state actor
and where the principal theater of operations is not within the territory of the nation that
is a party to the conflict. Thus, in considering this potential issue, the Department looks
to principles and statements from analogous contexts.
The Department has not found any authority for the proposition that when one of
the parties to an armed conflict plans and ex¥cutes operations from a base in a new
nation, an operation to engage the enemy in that location cannot be part of the original
armed conflict, and thus subject to the laws of war governing that conflict, unless the
hostilities become sufficiently intense and protracted in the new location. That does not
appear to be the rule of the historical practice, for instance, even in a traditional
international conflict. See John R. Stevenson, Legal Adviser, Department of State,
United States Military Action in Cambodia: Questions of International Law, Address
before the Hammarskjold Forum of the Association of the Bar of the City ofNew York
(May 28, 1970), in 3 The Vietnam War and International Law: The Widening Context
23, 28-30 (Richard A. Falk, ed. 1972) (arguing that in an international armed conflict, if a
neutral state has been unable for any reason to prevent violations of its neutrality by the
troops of one belligerent using its territory as a base of operations, the other belligerent
has historically been justified in attacking those enemy forces in that state). Particularly
in a non-international armed conflict, where terrorist organizations may move their base
of operations from one country to another, the determination of whether a particular
operation would be part of an ongoing armed conflict would require consideration of the
particular facts and circumstances in each case, including the fact that transnational nonstate
organizations such as al-Qa’ida may have no single site serving as their base of
4
operations. See also, e.g., Geoffrey S. Com & Eric Talbot Jensen, Untying the Gordian
Knot: A Proposal for Determining Applicability of the Laws ofWar to the War on
Terror, 81 Temp. L. Rev. 787, 799 (2008) (“If … the ultimate purpose ofthe drafters of
the Geneva Conventions was to prevent ‘law avoidance’ by developing de facto law
triggers-a purpose consistent with the humanitarian foundation of the treaties-then the
myopic focus on the geographic nature of an armed conflict in the context of
transnational counterterrorist combat operations serves to frustrate that purpose.”).2
If an operation of the kind discussed in this paper were to occur in a location
where al-Qa’ida or an associated force has a significant and organized presence and from
which al-Qa’ida or an associated force, including its senior operational leaders, plan
attacks against U.S. persons and interests, the operation would be part of the noninternational
armed conflict between the United States and al-Qa’ida that the Supreme
Court recognized in Hamdan. Moreover, such an operation would be consistent with
international legal principles of sovereignty and neutrality if it were conducted, for
example, with the consent of the host nation’s government or after a determination that
the host nation is unable or unwilling to suppress the threat posed by the individual
targeted. In such circumstances, targeting a U.S. citizen of the kind described in this
paper would be authorized under the AUMF and the inherent right to national selfdefense.
Given this authority, the question becomes whether and what further restrictions
may limit its exercise.
II.
The Department assumes that the rights afforded by Fifth Amendment’s Due
Process Clause, as well as the Fourth Amendment, attach to a U.S. citizen even while he
is abroad. See Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1, 5-6 (1957) (plurality opinion); United States v.
Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259,269-70 (1990); see also In re Terrorist Bombings of
US. Embassies in East Africa, 552 F.3d 157, 170 n.7 (2d Cir. 2008). The U.S.
citizenship of a leader of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces, however, does not give that
person constitutional immunity from attack. This paper next considers whether and in
what circumstances a lethal operation would violate any possible constitutional
protections of a U.S. citizen.
A.
The Due Process Clause would not prohibit a lethal operation of the sort
contemplated here. In Hamdi, a plurality of the Supreme Court used the Mathews v.
Eldridge balancing test to analyze the Fifth Amendment due process rights of a U.S.
citizen who had been captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan and detained in the
2 See Prosecutor v. Tadic, Case No. IT-94-1AR72, Submission of the Government of the United
States of America Concerning Certain Arguments Made by Counsel for the Accused, at 27-28 (Int’l Crim.
Trib. For the Former Yugoslavia, App. Chamber July 17, 1995) (in determining which body of law applies
in a particular conflict, “the conflict must be considered as a whole, and “it is artificial and improper to
attempt to divide it into isolated segments, either geographically or chronologically”).
5
United States, and who wished to challenge the government’s assertion that he was part
of enemy forces. The Court explained that the “process due in any given instance is
determined by weighing ‘the private interest that will be affected by the official action’
against the Government’s asserted interest, ‘including the function involved’ and the
burdens the Government would face in providing greater process.” Hamdi, 542 U.S. at
529 (plurality opinion) (quoting Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 335 (1976)). The
due process balancing analysis applied to determine the Fifth Amendment rights of a U.S.
citizen with respect to law-of-war detention supplies the framework for assessing the
process due a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of an enemy force planning
violent attacks against Americans before he is subjected to lethal targeting.
In the circumstances considered here, the interests on both sides would be
weighty. See Hamdi, 542 U.S. at 529 (plurality opinion) (“It is beyond question that
substantial interests lie on both sides of the scale in this case.”). An individual’s interest
in avoiding erroneous deprivation of his life is “uniquely compelling.” See Ake v.
Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 178 (1985) (“The private interest in the accuracy of a criminal
proceeding that places an individual’s life or liberty at risk is almost uniquely
compelling.”). No private interest is more substantial. At the same time, the
government’s interest in waging war, protecting its citizens, and removing the threat
posed by members of enemy forces is also compelling. Cf Hamdi, 542 U.S. at 531
(plurality opinion) (“On the other side of the scale are the weighty and sensitive
governmental interests in ensuring that those who have in fact fought with the enemy
during a war do not return to battle against the United States.”). As the Hamdi plurality
observed, in the “circumstances of war,” “the risk of erroneous deprivation of a citizen’s
liberty in the absence of sufficient process … is very real,” id. at 530 (plurality opinion),
and, of course, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of a citizen’s life is even more
significant. But, “the realities of combat” render certain uses of force “necessary and
appropriate,” including force against U.S. citizens who have joined enemy forces in the
armed conflict against the United States and whose activities pose an imminent threat of
violent attack against the United States-and “due process analysis need not blink at
those realities.” !d. at 531 (plurality opinion). These same realities must also be
considered in assessing “the burdens the Government would face in providing greater
process” to a member of enemy forces. !d. at 529, 531 (plurality opinion).
In view of these interests and practical considerations, the United States would be
able to use lethal force against a U.S. citizen, who is located outside the United States and
is an operational leader continually planning attacks against U.S. persons and interests, in
at least the following circumstances: (1) where an informed, high-level official of the
U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of
violent attack against the United States; (2) where a capture operation would be
infeasible-and where those conducting the operation continue to monitor whether
capture becomes feasible; and (3) where such an operation would be conducted consistent
with applicable law of war principles. In these circumstances, the “realities” of the
conflict and the weight of the government’s interest in protecting its citizens from an
· imminent attack are such that the Constitution would not require the government to
provide further process to such a U.S. citizen before using lethal force. Cf Hamdi, 542
6
U.S. at 535 (plurality opinion) (noting that the Court “accord[s] the greatest respect and
consideration to the judgments of military authorities in matters relating to the actual
prosecution of war, and … the scope of that discretion necessarily is wide”); id. at 534
(plurality opinion) (“The parties agree that initial captures on the battlefield need not
receive the process we have discussed here; that process is due only when the
determination is made to continue to hold those who have been seized.”) (emphasis
omitted).
Certain aspects of this legal framework require additional explication. First, 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. Given the
nature of, for example, the terrorist attacks on September 11, in which civilian airliners
were hijacked to strike the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, this definition of
imminence, which would require the United States to refrain from action until
preparations for an attack are concluded, would not allow the United States sufficient
time to defend itself. The defensive options available to the United States may be
reduced or eliminated if al-Qa’ida operatives disappear and cannot be found when the
time of their attack approaches. Consequently, with respect to al-Qa’ida leaders who are
continually planning attacks, the United States is likely to have only a limited window of
opportunity within which to defend Americans in a manner that has both a high
likelihood of success and sufficiently reduces the probabilities of civilian causalities. See
Michael N. Schmitt, State-Sponsored Assassination in International and Domestic Law,
17 Yale J. Int’l L. 609, 648 (1992). Furthermore, a “terrorist ‘war’ does not consist of a
massive attack across an international border, nor does it consist of one isolated incident
that occurs and is then past. It is a drawn out, patient, sporadic pattern of attacks. It is
very difficult to know when or where the next incident will occur.” Gregory M. Travalio,
Terrorism, International Law, and the Use of Military Force, 18 Wis. Int’l L.J. 145, 173
(2000); see also Testimony of Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith, 660 Hansard. H.L.
(April21, 2004) 370 (U.K.), available at
http:/ /www.publications.parliament. uk/pa/ld200304/ldhansrd/vo0404 21 /text/404 21-
07.htm (what constitutes an imminent threat “will develop to meet new circumstances
and new threats . . . . It must be right that states are able to act in self-defense in
circumstances where there is evidence of further imminent attacks by terrorist groups,
even if there is no specific evidence of where such an attack will take place or of the
precise nature of the attack.”). Delaying action against individuals continually planning
to kill Americans until some theoretical end stage of the planning for a particular plot
would create an unacceptably high risk that the action would fail and that American
casualties would result.
By its nature, therefore, the threat posed by al-Qa’ida and its associated forces
demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning
terror attacks presents an imminent threat, making the use of force appropriate. In this
context, imminence must incorporate considerations of the relevant window of
opportunity, the possibility of reducing collateral damage to civilians, and the likelihood
ofheading off future disastrous attacks on Americans. Thus, a decision maker
7
determining whether an al-Qa’ida operational leader presents an imminent threat of
violent attack against the United States must take into account that certain members of alQa’ida
(including any potential target of lethal force) are continually plotting attacks
against the United States; that al-Qa’ida would engage in such attacks regularly to the
extent it were able to do so; that the U.S. government may not be aware of all al-Qa’ida
plots as they are developing and thus cannot be confident that none is about to occur; and
that, in light of these predicates, the nation may have a limited window of opportunity
within which to strike in a manner that both has a high likelihood of success and reduces
the probability of American casualties.
With this understanding, a high-level official could conclude, for example, that an
individual poses an “imminent threat” of violent attack against the United States where
he is an operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force and is personally and
continually involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States. Moreover,
where the al-Qa’ida member in question has recently been involved in activities posing
an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States, and there is no evidence
suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities, that member’s
involvement in al-Qa’ida’s continuing terrorist campaign against the United States would
support the conclusion that the member poses an imminent threat.
Second, regarding the feasibility of capture, capture would not be feasible if it
could not be physically effectuated during the relevant window of opportunity or if the
relevant country were to decline to consent to a capture operation. Other_ factors such as
undue risk to U.S. personnel conducting a potential capture operation also could be
relevant. Feasibility would be a highly fact-specific and potentially time-sensitive
mqmry.
Third, it is a premise here that any such lethal operation by the United States
would comply with the four fundamental law-of-war principles governing the use of
force: necessity, distinction, proportionality, and humanity (the avoidance of
mmecessary suffering). See, e.g., United States Air Force, Targeting, Air Force Doctrine
Document 2-1.9, at 88 (June 8, 2006); Dinstein, Conduct of Hostilities at 16-20, 115-16,
119-23; see also 2010 Koh ASIL Speech. For example, it would not be consistent with
those principles to continue an operation if anticipated civilian casualties would be
excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
ofStafflnstruction 5810.01D, Implementation of the DoD Law of War Program~ 4.a, at
1 (Apr. 30, 2010). An operation consistent with the laws ofwar could not violate the
prohibitions against treachery and perfidy, which address a breach of confidence by the
assailant. See, e.g., Hague Convention IV, Annex, art. 23(b), Oct. 18, 1907, 36 Stat.
2277, 2301-02 (“[I]t is especially forbidden … [t]o kill or wound treacherously
individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army …. “). These prohibitions do not,
however, categorically forbid the use of stealth or surprise, nor forbid attacks on
identified individual soldiers or officers. See U.S. Army Field Manual27-10, The Law of
Land Warfare,~ 31 (1956) (article 23(b) ofthe Annex to the Hague Convention IV does
not “preclude attacks on individual soldiers or officers of the enemy whether in the zone
of hostilities, occupied territory, or else-where”). And the Department is not aware of
8
any other law-of-war grounds precluding use of such tactics. See Dinstein, Conduct of
Hostilities at 94-95, 199; Abraham D. Sofaer, Terrorism, the Law, and the National
Defense, 126 Mil. L. Rev. 89, 120-21 (1989). Relatedly, “there is no prohibition under
the laws of war on the use of technologically advanced weapons systems in armed
conflict-such as pilotless aircraft or so-called smart bombs-as long as they are
employed in conformity with applicable laws of war.” 2010 Koh ASIL Speech. Further,
under this framework, the United States would also be required to accept a surrender if it
were feasible to do so.
In sum, an operation in the circumstances and under the constraints described
above would not result in a violation of any due process rights.
B.
Similarly, assuming that a lethal operation targeting a U.S. citizen abroad who is
planning attacks against the United States would result in a “seizure” under the Fourth
Amendment, such an operation would not violate that Amendment in the circumstances
posited here. The Supreme Court has made clear that the constitutionality of a seizure is
determined by “balanc[ing] the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual’s
Fourth Amendment interests against the importance of the governmental interests alleged
to justify the intrusion.” Tennessee v. Garner, 471 US. 1; 8 (1985) (internal quotation
marks omitted); accord Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 383 (2007). Even in domestic law
enforcement operations, the Court has noted that “[w]here the officer has probable cause
to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or
to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force.”
Garner, 4 71 U.S. at 11. Thus, “if the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there
is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or
threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to
prevent escape, and if, where feasible, some warning has been given.” ld. at 11-12.
The Fourth Amendment “reasonableness” test is situation-dependent. Cf Scott,
550 U.S. at 382 (“Garner did not establish a magical on/off switch that triggers rigid
preconditions whenever an officer’s actions constitute ‘deadly force.”‘). What would
constitute a reasonable use of lethal force for purposes of domestic law enforcement
operations differs substantially from what would be reasonable in the situation and
circumstances discussed in this white paper. But at least in circumstances where the
targeted person is an operational leader of an enemy force and an informed, high-level
government official has determined that he poses an imminent threat of violent attack
against the United States, and those conducting the operation would carry out the
operation only if capture were infeasible, the use of lethal force would not violate the
Fourth Amendment. Under such circumstances, the intrusion on any Fourth Amendment
interests would be outweighed by the “importance of the governmental interests [that]
justify the intrusion,” Garner, 471 U.S. at 8-the interests in protecting the lives of
Americans.
9
c.
Finally, the Department notes that under the circumstances described in this
paper, there exists no appropriate judicial forum to evaluate these constitutional
considerations. It is well-established that “[m]atters intimately related to foreign policy
and national security are rarely proper subjects for judicial intervention,” Haig v. Agee,
453 U.S. 280, 292 (1981), because such matters “frequently turn on standards that defy
judicial application,” or “involve the exercise of a discretion demonstrably committed to
the executive or legislature,” Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 211 (1962). Were a court to
intervene here, it might be required inappropriately to issue an ex ante command to the
President and officials responsible for operations with respect to their specific tactical
judgment to mount a potential lethal operation against a senior operational leader of alQa’ida
or its associated forces. And judicial enforcement of such orders would require
the Court to supervise inherently predictive judgments by the President and his national
security advisors as to when and how to use force against a member of an enemy force
against which Congress has authorized the use of force.
III.
Section 1119(b) of title 18 provides that a “person who, being a national of the
United States, kills or attempts to kill a national of the United States while such national
is outside the United States but within the jurisdiction of another country shall be
punished as provided under sections 1111, 1112, and 1113.” 18 U.S.C. § 1119(b)
(2006). 3 Because the person who would be the target of the kind of operation discussed
here would be a U.S. citizen, it might be suggested that section 1119(b) would prohibit
such an operation. Section 1119, however, incorporates the federal murder and
manslaughter statutes, and thus its prohibition extends only to “unlawful killing[s],” 18
U.S.C. §§ 1111(a), 1112(a) (2006). Section 1119 is best construed to incorporate the
“public authority” justification, which renders lethal action carried out by a government
official lawful in some circumstances. As this paper explains below, a lethal operation of
the kind discussed here would fall within the public authority exception under the
circumstances and conditions posited because it would be conducted in a manner
consistent with applicable law of war principles governing the non-international conflict
between the United States and al-Qa’ida and its associated forces. It therefore would not
result in an unlawful killing. 4
3 See also 18 U.S.C. § 1119(a) (2006) (providing that “‘national of the United States’ has the
meaning stated in section 101(a)(22) of the Immigration and Nationality Act,” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(22)
(2006)).
4 In light of the conclusion that section 1119 and the statutes it cross-references incorporate this
justification, and that the justification would cover an operation of the sort discussed here, this discussion
does not address whether an operation of this sort could be lawful on any other grounds.
10
A.
Although section 1119(b) refers only to the “punish[ments]” provided under
sections 1111, 1112, and 1113, courts have held that section 1119(b) incorporates the
substantive elements of those cross-referenced provisions oftitle 18. See, e.g., United
States v. Wharton, 320 F.3d 526, 533 (5th Cir. 2003); United States v. White, 51 F. Supp.
2d 1008, 1013-14 (E.D. Cal. 1997). Section 1111 oftitle 18 sets forth criminal penalties
for “murder,” and provides that”[ m]urder is the unlawful killing of a human being with
malice aforethought.” 18 U.S.C. § llll(a). Section 1112 similarly provides criminal
sanctions for “[m]anslaughter,” and states that “[m]anslaughter is the unlawful killing of
a human being without malice.” !d. § 1112(a). Section 1113 provides criminal penalties
for “attempts to commit murder or manslaughter.” !d. § 1113. It is therefore clear that
section 1119(b) bars only “unlawful killing.”
Guidance as to the meaning of the phrase “unlawful killing” in sections 1111 and
1112-and thus for purposes of section 1119(b )-can be found in the historical
understandings of murder and manslaughter. That history shows that states have long
recognized justifications and excuses to statutes criminalizing “unlawful” killings. 5 One
state court, for example, in construing that state’s murder statute, explained that “the
word ‘unlawful’ is a term of art” that “connotes a homicide with the absence of factors of
excuse or justification.” People v. Frye, 10 Cal. Rptr. 2d 217, 221 (Cal. Ct. App. 1992).
That court further explained that the factors of excuse or justification in question include
those that have traditionally been recognized. !d. at 221 n.2. Other authorities support
the same conclusion. See, e.g., Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 685 (1975)
(requirement of”unlawful” killing in Maine murder statute meant that killing was
“neither justifiable nor excusable”); cf also Rollin M. Perkins & Ronald N. Boyce,
Criminal Law 56 (3d ed. 1982) (“Innocent homicide is of two kinds, (1) justifiable and
(2) excusable.”). Accordingly, section 1119 does not proscribe killings covered by a
justification traditionally recognized under the common law or state and federal murder
statutes. “Congress did not intend [section 1119] to criminalize justifiable or excusable
killings.” White, 51 F. Supp. 2d at 1013.
B.
The public authority justification is well-accepted, and it may be available even in
cases where the particular criminal statute at issue does not expressly refer to a public
5 The same is true with respect to other statutes, including federal laws, that modify a prohibited
act other than murder or manslaughter with the term “unlawfully.” See, e.g., Territory v. Gonzales, 89 P.
250, 252 (N.M. 1907) (construing the term “unlawful” in statute criminalizing assault with a deadly
weapon as “clearly equivalent” to “without excuse or justification”). For example, 18 U.S.C.
§ 2339C(a)(1) (2006) makes it unlawful, inter alia, to “unlawfully and willfully provide[] or collect[]
funds” with the intention that they may be used (or knowledge they are to be used) to carry out an act that
is an offense within certain specified treaties, or to engage in certain other terrorist acts. The legislative
history of section 2339C makes clear that “[t]he term ‘unlawfully’ is intended to embody common law
defenses.” H.R. Rep. No. 107-307, at 12 (2001).
11
authority justification. Prosecutions where such a “public authority” justification is
invoked are understandably rare, see American Law Institute Model Penal Code and
Commentaries§ 3.03 Comment 1, at 23-24 (1985); cf Visa Fraud Investigation, 8 Op.
O.L.C. 284,285 n.2, 286 (1984), and thus there is little case law in which courts have
analyzed the scope of the justification with respect to the conduct of government
officials. Nonetheless, discussions in the leading treatises and in the Model Penal Code
demonstrate its legitimacy. See 2 Wayne R. LaFave, Substantive Criminal Law
§ 10.2(b), at 135 (2d ed. 2003); Perkins & Boyce, Criminal Law at 1093 (“Deeds which
otherwise would be criminal, such as taking or destroying property, taking hold of a
person by force and against his will, placing him in confinement, or even taking his life,
are not crimes if done with proper public authority.”); see also Model Penal Code
§ 3.03(1)(a), (d), (e), at 22-23 (proposing codification of justification where conduct is
“required or authorized by,” inter alia, “the law defining the duties or functions of a
public officer,” “the law governing the armed services or the lawful conduct of war,” or
“any other provision of law imposing a public duty”); National Commission on Reform
of Federal Criminal Laws, A Proposed New Federal Criminal Code§ 602(1) (1971)
(“Conduct engaged in by a public servant in the course of his official duties is justified
when it is required or authorized by law.”). And the Department’s Office of Legal
Counsel (“OLC”) has invoked analogous rationales when it has analyzed whether
Congress intended a particular criminal statute to prohibit specific conduct that otherwise
falls within a government agency’s authorities. See, e.g., Visa Fraud Investigation, 8 Op.
O.L.C. at 287-88 (concluding that a civil statute prohibiting issuance of visa to an alien
known to be ineligible did not prohibit State Department from issuing such a visa where
“necessary” to facilitate an important Immigration and Naturalization Service undercover
operation carried out in a “reasonable” fashion).
The public authority justification would not excuse all conduct of public officials
from all criminal prohibitions. The legislature may design some criminal prohibitions to
place bounds on the kinds of governmental conduct that can be authorized by the
Executive. Or the legislature may enact a criminal prohibition in order to limit the scope
of the conduct that the legislature has otherwise authorized the Executive to undertake
pursuant to another statute. See, e.g., Nardone v. United States, 302 U.S. 379, 384 (1937)
(federal statute proscribed government wiretapping). But the generally recognized public
authority justification reflects that it would not make sense to attribute to Congress the
intent to criminalize all covered activities undertaken by public officials in the legitimate
exercise of their otherwise lawful authorities, even if Congress clearly intends to make
those same actions a crime when committed by persons not acting pursuant to public
authority. In some instances, therefore, the best interpretation of a criminal prohibition is
that Congress intended to distinguish persons who are acting pursuant to public authority
from those who are not, even if the statute does not make that distinction express. Cf id.
at 384 (federal criminal statutes should be construed to exclude authorized conduct of
public officers where such a reading “would work obvious absurdity as, for example, the
12
application of a speed law to a policeman pursuing a criminal or the driver of a fire
engine responding to an alarm”). 6
The touchstone for the analysis whether section 1119 incorporates not only
justifications generally, but also the public authority justification in particular, is the
legislative intent underlying this statute. Here, the statute should be read to exclude from
its prohibitory scope killings that are encompassed by traditional justifications, which
include the public authority justification. The statutory incorporation of two other
criminal statutes expressly referencing “unlawful” killings is one indication. See supra at
Moreover, there are no indications that Congress had a contrary intention.
Nothing in the text or legislative history of sections 1111-1113 of title 18 suggests that
Congress intended to exclude the established public authority justification from those
justifications that Congress otherwise must be understood to have imported through the
use of the modifier “unlawful” in those statutes. Nor is there anything in the text or
legislative history of section 1119 itself to suggest that Congress intended to abrogate or
otherwise affect the availability of this traditional justification for killings. On the
contrary, the relevant legislative materials indicate that, in enacting section 1119,
Congress was merely closing a gap in a field dealing with entirely different kinds of
conduct from that at issue here. 7
The Department thus concludes that section 1119 incorporates the public
authority justification. 8 This paper turns next to the question whether a lethal operation
6 Each potentially applicable statute must be carefully and separately examined to discern
Congress’s intent in this respect. See generally, e.g., Nardone, 302 U.S. 379; United States Assistance to
Countries that Shoot Down Civil Aircraft Involved in Drug Trafficking, 18 Op. O.L.C. 148 (1994);
Application of Neutrality Act to Official Government Activities, 8 Op. O.L.C. 58 (1984).
7 Section 1119 was designed to close a jurisdictional loophole-exposed by a murder that had
been committed abroad by a private individual-to ensure the possibility of prosecuting U.S. nationals who
murdered other U.S. nationals in certain foreign countries that lacked the ability to lawfully secure the
perpetrator’s appearance at trial. See 137 Cong. Rec. 8675-76 (1991) (statement of Sen. Thurmond). This
loophole is unrelated to the sort of authorized operation at issue here. Indeed, prior to the enactment of
section 1119, the only federal statute expressly making it a crime to kill U.S. nationals abroad (outside the
United States’ special and maritime jurisdiction) reflected what appears to have been a particular concern
with the protection of Americans from terrorist attacks. See 18 U.S.C. § 2332(a), (d) (2006) (criminalizing
unlawful killings of U.S. nationals abroad where the Attorney General or his subordinate certifies that the
“offense was intended to coerce, intimidate, or retaliate against a government or a civilian population”).
8 18 U.S.C. § 956(a)(l) (2006) makes it a crime to conspire within the jurisdiction ofthe United
States “to commit at any place outside the United States an act that would constitute the offense of murder,
kidnapping, or maiming if committed in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United
States” if any conspirator acts within the United States to effect any object ofthe conspiracy. Like section
1119(b), section 956(a) incorporates the public authority justification. In addition, the legislative history of
section 956(a) indicates that the provision was “not intended to apply to duly authorized actions undertaken
on behalfofthe United States Government.” 141 Cong. Rec. 4491,4507 (1995) (section-by-section
analysis of bill submitted by Sen. Biden, who introduced the provision at the behest of the President); see
also id. at 11,960 (section-by-section analysis ofbill submitted by Sen. Daschle, who introduced the
identical provision in a different version of the anti-terrorism legislation a few months later). Thus, for the
reasons that section 1119(b) does not prohibit the United States from conducting a lethal operation against
a U.S. citizen, section 956(a) also does not prohibit such an operation.
13
could be encompassed by that justification and, in particular, whether that justification
would apply when the target is a U.S. citizen. The analysis here leads to the conclusion
that it would.
c.
A lethal operation against an enemy leader undertaken in national self-defense or
during an armed conflict that is authorized by an informed, high-level official and carried
out in a manner that accords with applicable law of war principles would fall within a
well established variant of the public authority justification and therefore would not be
murder. See, e.g., 2 Paul H. Robinson, Criminal Law Defenses§ 148(a), at 208 (1984)
(conduct that would violate a criminal statute is justified and thus not unlawful “[w]here
the exercise of military authority relies upon the law governing the armed forces or upon
the conduct of war”); 2 LaFave, Substantive Criminal Law§ 10.2(c) at 136 (“another
aspect of the public duty defense is where the conduct was required or authorized by ‘the
law governing the armed services or the lawful conduct of war”‘); Perkins & Boyce,
Criminal Law at 1 093 (noting that a “typical instance[] in which even the extreme act of
taking human life is done by public authority” involves “the killing of an enemy as an act
of war and within the rules ofwar”).9
.
The United States is currently in the midst of a congressionally authorized armed
conflict with al-Qa’ida and associated forces, and may act in national self-defense to
protect U.S. persons and interests who are under continual threat of violent attack by
certain al-Q’aida operatives planning operations against them. The public authority
justification would apply to a lethal operation of the kind discussed in this paper if it were
conducted in accord with applicable law of war principles. As one legal commentator
has explained, “if a soldier intentionally kills an enemy combatant in time of war and
within the rules of warfare, he is not guilty of murder,” whereas, for example, if that
soldier intentionally kills a prisoner of war-a violation of the laws of war-“then he
commits murder.” 2 LaFave, Substantive Criminal Law§ 10.2(c), at 136; see also State
v. Gut, 13 Minn. 341, 357 (1868) (“That it is legal to kill an alien enemy in the heat and
exercise of war, is undeniable; but to kill such an enemy after he has laid down his arms,
and especially when he is confined in prison, is murder.”); Perkins & Boyce, Criminal
Law at 1093 (“Even in time of war an alien enemy may not be killed needlessly after he
has been disarmed and securely imprisoned …. “). Moreover, without invoking the
public authority justification by its terms, this Department’s OLC has relied on the same
notion in an opinion addressing the intended scope of a federal criminal statute that
concerned the use of potentially lethal force. See United States Assistance to Countries
9 See also Frye, 10 Cal. Rptr. 2d at 221 n.2 (identifying “homicide done under a valid public
authority, such as execution of a death sentence or killing an enemy in a time of war,” as examples of
justifiable killing that would not be “unlawful” under the California statute describing murder as an
“unlawful” killing); Model Penal Code § 3 .03(2)(b ), at 22 (proposing that criminal statutes expressly
recognize a public authority justification for a killing that “occurs in the lawful conduct of war”
notwithstanding the Code recommendation that the use of deadly force generally should be justified only if
expressly prescribed by law).
14
that Shoot Down Civil Aircraft Involved in Drug Trafficking, 18 Op. O.L.C. 148, 164
(1994) (concluding that the Aircraft Sabotage Act of 1984, 18 U.S.C. § 32(b)(2) (2006),
which prohibits the willful destruction of a civil aircraft and otherwise applies to U.S.
government conduct, should not be construed to have “the surprising and almost certainly
unintended effect of criminalizing actions by military personnel that are lawful under
international law and the laws of armed conflict”).
The fact that an operation may target a U.S. citizen does not alter this conclusion.
As explained above, see supra the Supreme Court has held that the military may
constitutionally use force against a U.S. citizen who is part of enemy forces. See Hamdi,
542 U.S. at 518 (plurality opinion); id. at 587, 597 (Thomas, J., dissenting); Ex parte
Quirin, 317 U.S. at 37-38 (“Citizens who associate themselves with the military arm of
the enemy government, and with its aid, guidance and direction enter [the United States]
bent on hostile acts,” may be treated as “enemy belligerents” under the law of war.).
Similarly, under the Constitution and the inherent right to national self-defense
recognized in international law, the President may authorize the use of force against a
U.S. citizen who is a member of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces and who poses an
imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.
In light of these precedents, the Department believes that the use of lethal force
addressed in this white paper would constitute a lawful killing under the public authority
doctrine if conducted in a manner consistent with the fundamental law of war principles
governing the use of force in a non-international armed conflict. Such an operation
would not violate the assassination ban in Executive Order No. 12333. Section 2.11 of
Executive Order No. 12333 provides that “[n]o person employed by or acting on behalf
of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”
46 Fed. Reg. 59,941, 59, 952 (Dec. 4, 1981). A lawful killing in self-defense is not an
assassination. In the Department’s view, a lethal operation conducted against a U.S.
citizen whose conduct poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United
States would be a legitimate act of national self-defense that would not violate the
assassination ban. Similarly, the use of lethal force, consistent with the laws of war,
against an individual who is a legitimate military target would be lawful and would not
violate the assassination ban.
IV.
The War Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2441 (2006) makes it a federal crime for a
member of the Armed Forces or a national of the United States to “commit[] a war
crime.” !d. § 2441 (a). The only potentially applicable provision of section 2441 to
operations of the type discussed herein makes it a war crime to commit a “grave breach”
of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions when that breach is committed “in the
context of and in association with an armed conflict not of an international character.”10
10 The statute also defines “war crime” to include any conduct that is defmed as a grave breach in
any of the Geneva Conventions (or any Geneva protocol to which the United States is a party); that is
prohibited by four specified articles of the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907; or that is a willful killing or
15
!d. § 2441 ( c )(3 ). As defined by the statute, a “grave breach” of Common Article 3
includes ” [ m ]urder,” described in pertinent part as ” [ t ]he act of a person who
intentionally kills, or conspires or attempts to kill … one or more persons taking no
active part in the hostilities, including those placed out of combat by sickness, wounds,
detention, or any other cause.” !d. § 2441(d)(1)(D).
Whatever might be the outer bounds of this category of covered
persons, Common Article 3 does not alter the fundamental law of war principle
concerning a belligerent party’s right in an armed conflict to target individuals who are
part of an enemy’s armed forces or eliminate a nation’s authority to take legitimate action
in national self-defense. The language of Common Article 3 “makes clear that members
of such armed forces [of both the state and non,-state parties to the conflict] … are
considered as ‘taking no active part in the hostilities’ only once they have disengaged
from their fighting function (‘have laid down their arms’) or are placed hors de combat;
mere suspension of combat is insufficient.” International Committee of the Red Cross,
Interpretive Guidance on the Notion of Direct Participation in Hostilities Under
International Humanitarian Law 28 (2009). An operation against a senior operational
leader of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces who poses an imminent threat of violent attack
against the United States would target a person who is taking “an active part in
hostilities” and therefore would not constitute a “grave breach” of Common Article 3.
v.
In conclusion, it would be lawful for the United States to conduct a lethal
operation outside the United States against a U.S. citizen who is a senior, operational
leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force of al-Qa’ida without violating the Constitution
or the federal statutes discussed in this white paper under the following conditions: (1)
an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted
individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; (2)
capture is infeasible, and the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes
feasible; and (3) the operation is conducted in a manner consistent with the four
fundamental principles of the laws of war governing the use of force. As stated earlier,
this paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render
such an operation lawful, nor does it assess what might be required to render a lethal
operation against a U.S. citizen lawful in other circumstances. It concludes only that the
stated conditions would be sufficient to make lawful a lethal operation in a foreign
country directed against a U.S. citizen with the characteristics described above.
infliction of serious injury in violation ofthe 1996 Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of
Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices. 18 U.S.C. § 2441(c).
16

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