American military and intelligence agencies can legally kill American citizens overseas if these individuals are al-Qaida leaders who pose an imminent threat to the U.S. and cannot be captured, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced on March 5, The Washington Times reported.
According to the newspaper, the comments made by Holder represent the first time that a Cabinet member has addressed the legal justification for last year’s drone strike on American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. U.S. officials noted that he was a senior leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which operates as the terrorist group’s affiliate in Yemen.
“Although I cannot discuss or confirm any particular program or operation, I believe it is important to explain these legal principles publicly,” Holder said in a speech at Northwestern University’s law school.
The Associated Press reported that Holder outlined the three steps that the U.S. must take in order to ensure that killing an American citizen is legal. These consist of determining they pose an imminent threat, capture is not feasible and that the killing would be consistent with laws of war.