Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, made the following statement Tuesday regarding a Justice Department paper entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Against a U.S. Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force” which was made public yesterday by NBC News:
“As I and ten other senators told the President yesterday, if individual Americans choose to take up arms against the United States, there will clearly be some circumstances in which the President has the authority to use lethal force against those Americans, just as President Lincoln had the authority to use force against the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
"At the same time, it is vitally important for Congress and the American public to have a full understanding of how the executive branch interprets this authority, so that Congress and the public can decide whether the President’s power to deliberately kill American citizens is subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards. Every American has the right to know when their government believes that it is allowed to kill them.
“The Justice Department memo that was made public yesterday touches on a number of important issues, but it leaves many of the most important questions about the President’s lethal authorities unanswered. Questions like ‘how much evidence does the President need to decide that a particular American is part of a terrorist group?’, ‘does the President have to provide individual Americans with the opportunity to surrender?’ and ‘can the President order intelligence agencies or the military to kill an American who is inside the United States?’ need to be asked and answered in a way that is consistent with American laws and American values. This memo does not answer these questions.
“I will continue to press the Administration to provide Congress with any and all legal opinions that outline the President’s authority to use lethal force against Americans, and I will not be satisfied until I have received them. I have not yet received an official response to the letter than I sent to Deputy National Security Advisor Brennan on this topic three weeks ago, but I look forward to raising the issue with him again at his nomination hearing this Thursday.”
The letter that Senator Wyden and ten other Senators sent to President Obama regarding these legal opinions can be found here. The letter that Senator Wyden sent to Deputy National Security Advisor Brennan, which includes detailed questions about the President’s lethal authorities, can be found here. And the letter that Senator Wyden sent to Attorney General Holder on this topic can be found here.