The United States can lawfully kill a U.S. citizen overseas if it determines the target is a “senior, operational leader” of al-Qaeda or an associated group and poses an imminent threat to the United States, according to a Justice Department document published late Monday by NBC News.
The document defines “imminent threat” expansively, saying it does not have to be based on intelligence about a specific attack since such actions are being “continually” planned by al-Qaeda. “In this context,” it says, “imminence must incorporate considerations of the relevant window of opportunity” as well as possible collateral damage to civilians.
It says that such determinations can be made by an “informed, high-level official of the U.S. government.”
NBC said the document was provided by the Obama administration last summer to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees as a summary of a classified memo on targeted killings of U.S. citizens prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.