Over the last 17 months that we’ve been on air, we’ve talked quite a bit about the Obama administration’s secret program of targeted killing of suspected terrorists. A small number of those targeted and killed have been American citizens, while some unconfirmed number of those killed in Yemen and Pakistan and elsewhere have been innocent civilians: mothers, children, young and old men in the wrong place at the wrong time.
People in the administration have told reporters that they have implemented an extremely rigorous screening process inside the White House to decide who ends up on the list, that the president himself approaches his responsibility to administer the program with solemnity and care, and that the policy has been efficient and effective in decimating al-Qaeda and other affiliated terrorist groups. A senior U.S. official said as early as 2009, ”The enemy is really, really struggling…These attacks have produced the broadest, deepest and most rapid reduction in al-Qaida senior leadership that we’ve seen in several years.”
But before any of the specifics of the program’s merits can be properly and fully debated, it has to be brought out from behind the veil of secrecy which now cloaks it. That process started this week when my colleague Michael Isikoff obtained a heretofore secret Department of Justice memo that outlines the administration’s legal arguments for why it believes it has the authority to use lethal force against ”a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force” if an “informed high-level official of the U.S. government has determined” it’s appropriate.