Under what circumstances are the killing of US citizens justified?

Here’s a report from the BBC on the “drone wars” carried out by the Bush and Obama administrations and the content of a leaked memo in which the Justice Department provides a legal argument backing drone strikes against Americans.  Is this, in your view, a proper use of presidential power?  Under what circumstances, if any, are such killings justified?  And what, in your opinion, does the word “imminent” mean?

21 responses to “Under what circumstances are the killing of US citizens justified?”

  1. nyle4 says :

    While one could argue that these people deserve it, they are criminals, they are on foreign soil, etc. If we wish to pride ourselves as a nation of laws where every man, woman, and child is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a jury of his peers, then the killing of any American citizen by a drone is unconstitutional. No matter how heinous the crimes one commits, he/she is guaranteed certain rights as an American. While it might be more efficient to blow them up in their living rooms, it is a violation of his rights as an American. Despite what anyone might feel towards someone like Anwar al-Aulaqi, we cannot let our emotions justify the violation of someone’s rights.

  2. BenLev4 says :

    I think that the killing of Anwar al-Aulaqi is justified. I believe that when an American joins forces with Al Qaeda, in an effort to destroy America, he or she has surrendered their rights provided by US law. It is difficult, expensive, and unsafe to deploy troops to catch a terrorist, and safely bring him home for trial. Soldiers’ lives are put at risk when attempting to capture al-Aulaqi in a hostile environment. Frankly, putting our soldiers’ lives at risk to guarantee a terrorists’ rights does not seem okay to me. These are the circumstances that I believe justify killing an American citizen: 1) The American has proven to be a threat to the country 2) It is not safe to send troops to capture him. These provisions were met in the assassination of al-Aulaqi, and in my opinion justify the United States’ actions.

  3. jack7 says :

    To me, “imminent” means “soon and likely to happen.” In this case, the danger does seem “imminent,” because, like we discussed with President Bush’s foreign policy after 9/11 a while ago, it is better to attack a possible threat than it is to be attacked and retaliate. However, one relies on probable cause and speculation, whereas the other relies on hard (and probably public) evidence. Although I do think that the drone strikes were warranted, even though Al-Aulaqi was an American citizen, because he was directly involved in a terrorist organization and effectively rejected his rights as an American in doing so, I am still hesitant about the future of drone strikes. I think that the CIA may become to powerful with the ability to directly violate the “innocent until proven guilty” right of Americans without a concrete cause in their hands. There are certainly circumstances like this one under which I believe the killings are justified, but I cannot tell if future killings will be as warranted as this one.

  4. Tanya4 says :

    Because “imminent” is such a broad term (and in this case is being used to justify the killings of US citizens) I dont think that it is a fair justification of the drone attacks. First of all imminence implies something that is impending, an action or event that is at rise. Even if the US government can suppose that the threat is imminent, without proof I personally believe that we cannot and should not kill US citizens, without proper evidence. There is never “justified killing” unless there is hard evidence of foul play, or of planned attacks. We need to set a precedent of fairness, not of assumptions.

  5. natek7 says :

    I think that the drone strikes were warranted. Anwar al-Aulaqi was associated with Al Qaeda and allegedly helped plan the Christmas Day Bombing in 2009. It is acceptable to use drones, especially when dealing with potentially dangerous criminals. The main job of the United States, in my opinion, is to protect American citizens, this includes all American soldiers. “Imminent” means “about to happen” and I feel that the US military can gather enough information and judgment to know when something is “imminent”.

  6. Jonas1 says :

    I think this is seriously overstepping the boundaries of presidential power and sets some dangerous precedents. Even if it is inconvenient, citizens still have rights and the President cannot simply play judge, jury and executioner, killing whoever he pleases. Some might say that you forfeit your rights when you ally with terrorists, but it may not always be so clear. While most might be able to agree in the case of Anwar al-Aulaqi, killing U.S. citizens this way is a slippery slope to go down. It also seems their definition of “imminent” is pretty loose. To me, the word means means that there is concrete evidence of a specific, impending threat. These actions seem more speculative, masking a preemptive strike as a justified response to some immediate danger.

  7. Liz7 says :

    When a criminal is given the death sentenced in the United States, there are years of protests and fact-checking until there is absolute certainty this person committed a crime. To give someone a death sentence before a crime is committed is a huge overstep of power. Are these targets plotting dangerous attacks? Probably, but that does not always mean they will be successful. Also, even when our government is convinced of this “imminent” threat, as in the case of al-Aulaqi, this does not mean he is the only person that will die. In the normal execution of an American, there are no casualties besides the intended criminals. Drones are bombs, and there will always be collateral damage. President Obama would never consider using these drones on domestic terrorists if it was on American soil, with innocent American citizens as inadvertent casualties. If the President wouldn’t use these drones on terrorists inside the country, he should not be able to use them on terrorists outside.

  8. katiepetrino4 says :

    This use of presidential power oversteps both the enumerated and implied powers of the presidency. Using drones to kill not only foreign terrorists, but American citizens is wrong. It is easy to say that these people are simply evil and by threatening to attack America, they give up their rights as American citizens. However, these strikes set the precedent that the President and other high ranking military officials may act as “judge, jury, and executioner” (Former Representative Hoekstra).This violates due process of the law, making these strikes on American citizens unconstitutional. Of course, there is the argument that these threats are imminent and therefore this expedited process is legitimate. The issue here lies in the precedent it sets. Where do we draw the line? Does an “imminent” threat truly strip an American citizen of their rights? Perhaps, but another issue is that these attacks have been stepped up, yet the process is not transparent. I’m not saying that the public needs to know when the next strike will be, etc. That would obviously be unreasonable. However, this memo should have been released years ago.

  9. Christina4 says :

    As a liberal I do find it disappointing that Obama participating in Bush Era military tactics. This feels like straight out of Cheney’s playbook. Its mildly amusing to me that Obama is basically telling people to curtail his powers, total PR move… I wish the situation was being handled is a way consistent with out domestic standards of justice. But I do feel Obama is between a rock and a hard place because of “imminent” threats, plus I’m sure that red button is very tempting….

  10. Ryan4 says :

    I agree with those who stated above that the government only classifies military targets as “imminent” if there is an immediate danger posed to the United States of America and those who serve. In the case of using drones, I do believe it is ethical. The only issue here is that these people aren’t residing on US soil, where they would be dealt with according to US law. Because these people have chosen to hide in foreign countries doesn’t necessarily protect them from the jurisdiction of the United States if they still pose a direct and impending threat to national security.

  11. Emily1 says :

    I agree that the drone attacks are justified. Terrorists present a significant threat to Americans, and it is not worth sending American troops in, risking their lives, for a capture mission that may not even be successful. Drones are a good, more efficient alternative. But, I do think that the definition of the word “imminent” is WAY to general and broad, giving the government too much power and say in what categorizes someone as an “imminent threat.” This is my issue with the drones. If there was clarification on what this term specifically implies, then I would be more supportive of the “drone wars.” The idea is helpful, but the government has overstepped its power by not determining a carefully outlined meaning for the term.

  12. Connor1 says :

    Like most answers when it comes to a question regarding American politics, it depends. On one hand, I think that if a certain group proposes a direct threat to the safety of the people of the United States, as our leader, the President has to get involved. But what qualifications declare someone as a direct threat? I do not believe that the President alone should have the power to take such actions with these drones, but with the consent and approval from congress, i think that there is enough consensus that something should be done for the President to conduct some sort of defense. The only problem that I see with attacking such threats is the target that it puts on our back for their allies who are going to want revenge…is it worth it? As always, it depends.

  13. Chad4 says :

    I believe that the use of drone strikes is not overstepping presidential power. If it is believed that a foreign terrorist, even an American-born terrorist, is plotting to attack America, the United States reserves the right to kill that person without needing to capture them. It can be hard to capture a known terrorist so sometimes the only option for the United States is to use a drone to kill them. I think this is even more true if the terrorist threat is considered to be imminent or, in other words, about to take place. There should definitely be restrictions on the use of drones, but I also do believe that their use can be good for the protection of the United States.

  14. bump7 says :

    If the president sees that the a terrorist, whether American-born or not, has the intend to cause harm to the U.S. it is not out of his presidential power to launch a drone strike. His role as Commander in Chief of the armed forces is to protect the American people and if he can do that with the use of drones and not risk the lives of American soldiers he should be given the power to do so. However I feel that he must be certain that the desired target does have the absolute intent in causing harm to the American people.

  15. Crawford4 says :

    I agree with bump. My theory is, even though this is not currently true, obviously, is that once an american citizen attacks or plans to attack americans on american soil or any law abiding citizen they should no longer be considered citizens and therefor should be targeted with any means necessary. Citizenship in this country is hard to obtain but even harder to loose. That needs to change. I have very little empathy for those wishing to inflict damage on the united states.

  16. nicoleb7 says :

    There is no way to be absolutely certain that someone is going to cause harm to the United States. I therefor think that it is way out of the power of the president to order the death of someone who has not only not faced a trail of some sort but may not have even committed an offense. Why is it left to the president to decide what “imminent danger” is? Yes, I agree that our national security is important and that it is the job of the president to see that America stays unharmed, but I don’t think the president should have the power to kill American citizens like that.

  17. jackb7 says :

    Giving the government permission to murder anyone may be one of the most dangerous things one could ever do. It is never acceptable especially if it is premeditated. The fact is the government can basically decide you, or I, or your mother is a threat and compromise you as they deem fit is absolutely frightening to say the least. The truth is, state sponsored murder can only lead down a road for the worse. Many Germans adored Adolf Hitler after he brought them out of economic despair, so much that they cheered as he masterminded the extermination of 17 million people. When the people allow state sponsored murder to happen, it can only get worse for the people.

  18. langston4 says :

    I agree with Jack. Giving the government the power to murder someone who they consider “a threat” frightens me because that means anyone could be subject to an attack. I believe attacks like these should only be conducted if there is clear evidence of an immediate threat to national security, and the only way to protect the nation and to stop the threat is through the use of a drone.

  19. benjamin1 says :

    Here is another expansion of power for the president. Again the presidency seems to have justified imperial actions with its commander-in-chief status. No constitutional framer could have anticipated the technology we have now, and serious time ought to be given to considering the constitutionality of drone strikes, as well as the ethicality of such cruel and unusual practices.

    • benjamin1 says :

      Not to say that the 8th amendment applies to “terrorists” in other countries, but such things need to be considered.

  20. Kalyn7 says :

    I think that this issue is interesting, because people who generally believe strongly in not granting the government too much power and not taking away the constitutional rights of American citizens tend to do a 180 degree turn on this issue. What I mean is, I find it interesting that conservatives support the use of drones and liberals condemn the practice. On the left side of the spectrum myself, I find it unacceptable that the government is using drones to essentially stalk and kill American citizens. I realize that terrorism is an “imminent” threat, but completely abandoning an American’s right to life seems to go against everything we believe. Although I am a little hypocritical *see my comment on the fourth amendment article.

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