A recently-leaked Justice Department memo offered justification for an increase in the number of drone strikes in recent years - including those aimed at US citizens - under the Obama administration.
“Targeting a member of an enemy force who poses an imminent threat of violent attack to the United States is not unlawful. It is a lawful act of self-defense,” reads the undated memo, titled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaeda or an Associated Force.”
The memo has come under fire by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), among other groups, for using executive authority to justify the killing of US citizens without a due process of the law.
Washington uses assassination drones in several countries, claiming that they target “terrorists.” According to witnesses, however, the attacks have mostly led to massive civilian casualties.
The founder of the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, Julian Assange has criticized the US administration over killing American citizens in drone strikes, saying the deadly campaign denotes the “collapse” of the system in the US.
"I can't see a greater collapse when the executive can kill its own citizens arbitrarily, at will, in secret, without any of the decision-making becoming public," Assange told the HBO talk show "Real Time with Bill Maher."
Earlier this month, the White House defended its drone strikes to kill people, even US citizens, inside the United States and said such targeted assassinations are “legal, ethical and wise.”
“Sometimes we use remotely piloted aircraft to conduct targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists in order to prevent attacks on the United States and to save American lives,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on February 5.
“We conduct those strikes because they are necessary to mitigate ongoing actual threats, to stop plots, to prevent future attacks and, again, save American lives. These strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise,” he said.
Carney also claimed that US President Barack Obama takes seriously his responsibility to protect the United States and its citizens and that he believes it is entirely appropriate to target suspected terrorists anywhere in the world regardless of their nation of origin.
In September 2011, two US citizens identified as Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, with suspected links to the al-Qaeda, were killed in a US drone strike in Yemen while they had never been charged with a crime.
Meanwhile, Assange added that "That's why we need organizations like WikiLeaks. I encourage anyone in the White House who has access to those rules and procedures, work them on over to us. We'll keep you secret and reveal it to the public."