On September 30, 2011, the US government carried out a successful drone strike against four suspected al-Qaeda supporters, two of whom were US citizens. Two weeks later, the US launched another drone strike killing a teenage US citizen and six other civilians, including another teenager. These actions by the US government have sparked a debate on the legality and morality of drone strikes killing both US citizens and foreigners abroad.
Anwar Al-Aulaqi was a Yemeni-American born in New Mexico and an alleged senior talent recruiter and motivator involved in planning terrorist operations for al-Qaeda. A drone strike killed him and his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, within two weeks of each other. Samir Khan, an American born in Saudi Arabia and the editor of al-Qaeda’s English-language web magazine, was also killed in the drone strike. Opponents of strikes such as these argue that the US government is not allowing American citizens suspected or accused of being involved in terrorist plans or attacks their rights as guaranteed by the Constitution’s due process clause.
In response to this accusation, the US government has claimed that the US citizens killed during these drone strikes were not specifically targeted, and thus, their due process rights were not violated. In addition, Attorney General Eric Holder stated three criteria in which the government uses to determine whether it is appropriate to carry out a drone strike against US citizens abroad:
the government must take special care and take into account all relevant constitutional considerations, the laws of war, and other law with respect to U.S. citizens — even those who are leading efforts to kill their fellow, innocent Americans. Such considerations allow for the use of lethal force in a foreign country against a [US] citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or its associated forces, and who is actively engaged in planning to kill Americans, in the following circumstances: (1) the [US] government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the [US]; (2) capture is not feasible; and (3) the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.
Critiques of these actions claim that these criteria are not legal bases for killing American citizens. They question the ability of these targeted individuals to surrender if they are not officially charged with a crime as well as the sufficiency of the evidence used to determine their association with terrorist actions. In an effort to be more transparent, President Obama ordered the Justice Department to show lawmakers its classified legal justification for drone strikes against US citizens abroad who are found to be terrorists.