The killing of American citizen and jihadist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen reignited a discussion about the United States government’s ability to target people for assassination, and now the New York Times is suing to find out more about the legal justification for doing so. The paper has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice for access to a legal memorandum that describes “the scope of the circumstances in which it is lawful for government officials to employ targeted killing as a policy tool.”
The suit cites renewed interest in the practice after the al-Awlaki killing and quotes numerous U.S. Senators who support release of the memo. The Times’ previous Freedom of Information Act requests for more information have been denied.
“Questions surrounding the legality of targeted killing — especially the extrajudicial use of lethal force away from any so-called ‘hot’ battlefield where United States forces are engaged in active combat — have generated extensive public debate since October 2001, when the Bush Administration first contemplated whether covert lethal force could be used against people deemed to be al-Qaeda operatives,” the suit says. “Given the questions surrounding the legality of the practice under both U.S. and international law, notable legal scholars, human rights activists, and current and former government officials have called for the government to disclose its legal analysis justifying the use of targeted lethal force, especially as it applies to American citizens.” Sounds reasonable.