Senators to target Brennan on drone use at CIA confirmation hearing

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“The executive branch’s cooperation” in making these opinions available “will help avoid an unnecessary confrontation that could affect the Senate’s consideration of nominees for national security positions.”

Mr. Brennan is widely seen as the architect of the administration’s targeted-killing program, which uses Predator drones operated by the CIA and armed with Hellfire missiles to strike individuals believed to be al Qaeda leaders.

Mr. Brennan was the official the administration chose last year to publicly acknowledge the existence of the program. Drone attacks have killed at least three Americans so far: Islamic preacher Anwar Awlaki, a senior leader in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; his 16-year old son Abdulrahman Awlaki; and propagandist Samir Khan.

Monday night, NBC News obtained a copy of a confidential but unclassified Justice Department white paper, laying out the legal basis for targeting americans under the program. The paper was prepared for members of congress last year on condition they did not disclose its existence or discuss its contents.

The paper lays out the conditions under which the president may order the lethal targeting of a U.S. citizen who is an “operational leader” of al Qaeda, who cannot feasibly be captured and who poses an “imminent threat” to the United States.

Mr. Brennan sketched out this justification last year, but the white paper gives more details and reveals how broad the circumstances are under which President Obama claims the right to act.

“The condition that an operational leader presents an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the paper states.

“Informed, high-level” officials can determine the target poses “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States” if they had “recently” been involved in acts of terrorism and there was no evidence they had renounced violence, the paper said.

The paper also says that for a lethal strike to be legal, officials must judge that it is “infeasible” to capture the target. But it adds that a capture is considered “infeasible” if an attempt would pose an “undue risk” to U.S. personnel.

The White House defended the program Tuesday.

“We conduct those strikes because they are necessary to mitigate ongoing actual threats, to stop plots, to prevent future attacks and … save American lives,” said spokesman Jay Carney.

“These strikes are legal. They are ethical, and they are wise.”

Civil rights advocates also criticized the White House justification for the program and compared them to harsh interrogation methods used against terrorist suspects under former President George W. Bush.

“The parallels to the Bush administration torture memos are chilling,” said attorney Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, reiterated cautious support for the program Tuesday.

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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