The Department of Justice has developed a white paper outlining the specific circumstances under which the United States can conduct a lethal drone strike against an American citizen, a copy of which was obtained Monday by NBC News.
The paper provides the first detailed look at the criteria the Obama administration uses to judge if it can legally kill American citizens traveling abroad without the benefit of due process. The release of the administration’s legal rationale comes days before CIA nominee John Brennan is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Panel members, including Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), have been pressing the administration on the issue for more than a year.
In the document, the Justice Department concludes that a lethal strike against a senior operational leader of al Qaeda — or an affiliated terrorist group — can occur if a three-part test is met: that a high-level American intelligence official has determined the individual poses an imminent threat, that capture is infeasible, and that the strike is conducted according to the laws of war governing use of force.