The White House has defended the United States' use of drone missile strikes to kill Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist suspects, even if they are U.S. citizens who have not been convicted in court.
White House spokesman James Carney said the Obama administration viewed the strikes as legal, ethical, and wise.
"We conduct those strikes because they are necessary to mitigate ongoing actual threats, to stop plots, to prevent future attacks and, again, save American lives," Carney said. "These strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise."
Carney noted that Congress has authorized the use of "all necessary military force" in the fight against Al-Qaeda, the Islamist militant organization blamed for the September 11, 2001, attacks that killed some 3,000 people in the United States.
The White House statement on February 5 came after the U.S. television network NBC reported on an unclassified Justice Department memo that says high-level U.S. officials could order the killing of suspected terrorists, including Americans, even if there is no clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. interests will take place in the immediate future.
The document says U.S. citizens can be targeted if they are evaluated by these high-level officials as having "recently" been involved in "activities" posing a possible threat.
The document stops short of directly stating what types of activities or behavior could make a suspect the target of a drone strike.
Rights Being Violated?
Critics have accused the Obama administration of an abuse of executive power, saying the policy infringes on the constitutional rights of Americans to due process and could lead to human rights violations.
Some critics also point to the 2011 drone strikes in Yemen that killed Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Samir Khan -- both U.S. citizens who had never been charged with a crime by U.S. authorities.
Officials have said Awlaki was linked to the planning of a series of attacks, including the attempted Christmas 2009 bombing of an airliner over Detroit.
The United States has used missile strikes by unmanned aircraft to target suspected militants, most notably in Pakistan and Yemen but also elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.
The attacks, which have killed civilians alongside militants, have strained relations between Washington and governments in countries where the attacks have occurred.
President Barack Obama’s choice to be the new head of the CIA, John Brennan, is expected to be questioned about the drone program on February 7 when his nomination goes before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Brennan, the current White House counterterrorism chief, is considered a key architect of the drone program.
The use of drone strikes began under the administration of President George W. Bush but their frequency has increased sharply since Obama took office in early 2009.
With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and dpa