An Obama administration legal memorandum from last year found that the killing of US citizen and senior al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] leader Anwar al-Awlaki [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] would only be legal if it were not feasible to take al-Awlaki alive. The memo last year followed months of legal debate regarding the decision to kill a US citizen without first having a trial. The secret document written by the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] justified the decision [NYT report] to kill al-Awlaki despite an executive order banning assassinations and a federal law against murder. The memo may serve to resolve the legal debate and respond to public criticism over whether the president can order the killing of US citizens abroad as part of a counterterrorism measure [WP report]. The document may also serve as justification for allowing the US military and CIA to kill an American overseas based on the written approval from the DOJ. The Obama Administration still has not discussed its role in the drone attack killing al-Awlaki.
Al-Awlaki was killed by a CIA drone strike [JURIST report] in Yemen on September 30. The strike marks the US government's most successful attack against al Qaeda since the raid leading to the death of Osama bin Laden [JURIST report] in Pakistan last May. The US-born radical Muslim cleric reportedly used his English and Internet skills to recruit individuals for attacks in the US. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] criticized the targeted killing as a violation of both US and international law [press release]. The US has increased drone strikes in Yemen to try and reduce al Qaeda's power in the region and minimize the chaos spilling over the border into Saudi Arabia. The US targeted Awlaki in a strike last May but missed.