The Legality of Killing Americans with Drones Laid Out in Govt. Memo - CourtSide
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The Legality of Killing Americans with Drones Laid Out in Govt. Memo

A federal appeals court has released a secret Justice Department memo that justifies a 2011 drone attack that killed Anwar al Awlaki, an American-born Islamist preacher and suspected al Qaeda leader.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals released a redacted version of the secret Obama administration memorandum on Monday. The memo (which starts on page 67 after the opinion) states that since the U.S. government considered al Awlaki to be an "operational leader" of an "enemy force," it was legal for the Central Intelligence Agency to attack him with a drone even though he was a U.S. citizen.

The memo says the killing was further justified under Congressional authorization for the use of U.S. military force following the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked-plane attacks.

The Obama administration released the memo in response to a court order following Freedom of Information lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times.

"High-level government officials have concluded, on the basis of al-Aulaqi's activities in Yemen, that al-Aulaqi is a leader of (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) whose activities in Yemen pose a 'continued an imminent threat' of violence to United states persons and interests," the document said.

Awlaki was killed in what U.S. officials acknowledged at the time was a CIA drone strike in Yemen on September 30, 2011, Reuters reports. Another American citizen, Samir Khan, was killed in the same attack, although U.S. officials have said that Khan was not intentionally targeted.