NEW YORK – As the Barack Obama administration continues to roll out justifications for its policy of targeting U.S. citizens and others thought to be attacking U.S. troops, legal and national security experts are pondering a central question: What if there’s a mistake and the wrong person gets killed?
There are no do-overs. It is a death sentence. That, in fact, has already happened. A Reuters cameraman was killed by a U.S. drone strike when the operator mistook his camera’s long-range lens for a rocket-propelled grenade. Nevertheless, a top Obama counter-terrorism official is defending the government’s right to target U.S. citizens perceived as terror threats for capture or killing, citing the example of the renegade al Qaeda-linked cleric Anwar al- Awlaki.Al-Awlaki, 39, was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and is an Islamic lecturer who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Yemen. He is a spiritual leader and former imam who has purportedly inspired Islamic terrorists. His sermons are said to have been attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers.
Michael Leiter, director of the National Counter-terrorism Center, does not say whether al-Awlaki is on a U.S. target list, but a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official has previously confirmed that the cleric is among terror targets sought to be captured or killed.
What does the law say about targeting and killing people?