After considerable review of both the decision to use lethal force against Anwar al-Aulaqi and the rules governing such “targeted killings,” Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) have concluded that the use of lethal force against al-Aulaqi – an American -- met legal standards.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the senators – all members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – said the lethal action against al-Aulaqi was a “legitimate use of the authority granted to the president” but also expressed concern that the limits and boundaries of these authorities are not yet, and should be, public knowledge.
The senators pressed for more openness regarding these limits and boundaries, particularly the rules for taking lethal action against Americans, and the rules for preventing harm to civilians.
In their letter, the senators referenced al-Aulaqi’s decision to join an organized fighting force engaged in attacks against the U.S., his leadership role in this organization and his involvement in the planning of ongoing operations and intent to carry them out.
“Mr. al-Aulaqi clearly made a conscious decision to join an organized fighting force that was (and is) engaged in planning and carrying out attacks against the United States …,” the senators wrote. “By taking on a leadership role in this organization, involving himself in ongoing operational planning against the United States, and demonstrating the capacity and intent to carry out these operations, he made himself a legitimate target for military action.”
The senators urged the president to make the rules governing “targeted killings” available to the American people. They asked the Executive Branch to explain exactly how much evidence is necessary to determine whether an American should be a target for military action.
They also seek a public explanation of the requirements governing how an individual is determined to be an “imminent” threat whose capture is “infeasible.”
“We have also concluded that the limits and boundaries of the President’s power to authorize the deliberate killing of Americans need to be laid out with much greater specificity,” the senators continued. “The United States’ playbook for combating terrorism will sometimes include sections that are secret, but the rulebook that the United States follows should always be available to the American public. … As we see it, every American has the right to know when their government believes it is allowed to kill them.”
The senators also requested additional legal analysis, and called for more details about the rules for protecting civilians to be made public.