– Holder: U.S. can kill citizens in terror fight (Philadelphia Inquirer, Mar 6, 2012):
The attorney general said Congress gave the legal right.
CHICAGO – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. defended the nation’s right to target and kill American citizens overseas in the war on terror, telling an audience at the Northwestern University law school that when those people pose a real threat to this country and cannot be captured unharmed, “we must take steps to stop them.”
But he stressed that it can be done only “in full accordance with the Constitution” and asserted that a targeted slaying, such as that of American-born Anwar al-Awlaki in a U.S. drone attack in Yemen last year, can be ordered only after an imminent threat is posed to the United States and the person’s capture is deemed not feasible.
“In this hour of danger, we simply cannot afford to wait until deadly plans are carried out,” Holder said. “And we will not.”
He said the legal right to kill U.S. citizens overseas without benefit of a trial was based on Congress’ authorization to use all necessary and appropriate force against the perpetrators of 9/11 and those who helped them and the president’s power “to protect the nation from any imminent threat of violent attack.”
That authority is “not limited to the battlefields in Afghanistan,” Holder said, adding: “We are at war with a stateless enemy prone to shifting operations from country to country.”
His comments in a carefully orchestrated address Monday at the law school’s Chicago campus came after sharp questions over the Obama administration’s slaying of al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico, and how the killing comported with the oft-repeated stance from Holder and the White House that terrorists should be brought to justice in U.S. federal courts in this country.
The attorney general has been at the center of the controversy over trying to defend the administration’s policy toward handling terrorists.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama pledged to close the military prison for terrorists at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and he and Holder have repeatedly insisted that terrorists should be tried in federal civilian courts rather than military tribunals. But after intense pressure from Republicans and some Democrats, they had to back off on shutting Guantanamo Bay, as well as their plan to try five top 9/11 plotters in federal court in New York.
Since the drone attack in the fall that killed al-Awlaki and another U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, conservatives have begun casting the administration as two-faced in its policy for terrorists, and liberals questioned how Obama and Holder could justify killing Americans.
Holder did not mention the September slayings of al-Awlaki and Khan, or the reported slaying of al-Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman, 16, in a drone attack two weeks later. Nor did he discuss the Department of Justice Office of Legal Policy document giving the administration legal justification for the use of force. He did not even acknowledge that such a document existed, although several organizations have filed suit to make it public.
Evidence has shown that al-Awlaki, 40, a radical cleric, was a major propagandist for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He also was linked to Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, who is being court-martialed for the 2009 rampage that killed 13 at Fort Hood, Texas; and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian sentenced in Detroit last month to life in prison with no parole for trying to ignite a bomb on a jetliner on Christmas Day 2009.