President Barack Obama's administration is considering launching a drone attack to kill an American citizen who has been allegedly planning terrorist attacks against the U.S., media reports said Monday.
Although no details about the American citizen have been confirmed, he's suspected to have ties with al-Qaida, and the debate, which has been going on for the past six months came to light for the first time after Obama’s new restrictions on drone operations were released last May, according to Associated Press. The Department of Defense has been debating whether the person is dangerous enough to merit a drone attack without charging him with a crime or trying him, AP reported, citing a senior U.S. official.
The debate reportedly involves the Justice Department, State Department, Department of Defense, the CIA and the White House. And, according to a Fox News report, the official also said that there have been “elaborate, multiple legal reviews” on the subject trying to “weigh the purest legal reasoning with the needs of the nation.” The news report also mentions that the person had a relationship with American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki before 2003, who was killed in a drone attack in Yemen by the U.S. in 2011.
The U.S. began conducting drone attacks in 2004 in Waziristan, a mountainous region bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan and the latter has seen widespread protests against the U.S. and its drone operation over the years, which have been blamed for the death of several civilians, including children.
According to the new guidelines on such drone attacks, lethal force is to be used only “to prevent or stop attacks against U.S. persons, and even then, only when capture is not feasible and no other reasonable alternatives exist to address the threat effectively." The guidelines also state that the target must also pose "a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons" for the U.S. to begin a lethal attack, which can be carried out only by the military and not the CIA.
Mary Ellen O'Connell, a professor of international law at the University of Notre Dame, told Fox News: "Why should the Justice Department issue the execution warrant for anyone abroad? The fact that they give extra scrutiny only because he's an American exacerbates this negative impression," O'Connell said.
According to a news report by The New York Times, the U.S. citizen is currently residing in Pakistan, which has banned U.S. military action on its soil and has proved unable to go after him. The AP report noted that CIA drones are watching him but cannot launch a strike because he's a U.S. citizen while the Pentagon's drones are barred from the country where he's hiding, and the Justice Department is yet to finish building a case against him.