When does the CIA think it's okay to kill Americans?

By Michael Glantz on February 13, 2013

A predator drone firing a hellfire missle.
Credit: Pan-African News Wire File Photos

Unfortunately, it’s not very clear.

Following the confirmation hearing of President Obama’s nomination for the next head of the CIA, John Brennan, there are more questions than answers about the justification our government uses to carry out targeted killings of American citizens. The debate started in 2011 when two American citizens, Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, who were believed to be high ranking operatives in al-Qaeda, were killed in a “targeted strike” carried out by the CIA. The “targeted strikes” are launched by remotely controlled unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. The drone program is run by the CIA rather than the military. This is a problem because the CIA and military are subject to different kinds of oversight, with oversight of the former usually being inconsistent. For example, a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union regarding the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16 year old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was denied by a district judge because she could “find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”

 Congress wants more oversight.

Following the leak of a Department of Justice memo that roughly outlines the criteria the administration feels are sufficient to kill Americans, Senators want more oversight of the drone program. Senator Ron Wyden put it this way, “Every American has the right to know when their government believes it’s allowed to kill them.” That statement comes as a reaction to parts of the DoJ memo that are exceedingly vague for such a sensitive issue. For instance, the official making the call needs only to be a “informed, high-level” official of the U.S. government. Exactly how informed and how high-level is not readily apparent. The gray areas of this debate seem vastly larger than the black and white areas. Is this executive overreach? Or is this just a vital component of our national security apparatus that warrants secrecy? It seems that only time will tell.

I am a sophomore at the University of Denver studying Film and English. I am deeply interested in Politics and the role of the U.S. in the world at large.

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