Avoiding Confusion About Drone Assassinations in One Easy Step

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The New York Times has a long piece this weekend about Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico native who joined al-Qaeda and was killed in 2011 by a drone attack. Part of the piece is about the legal justification for killing an American citizen without due process, which was laid out first in a short memorandum written by David Barron and Martin Lederman and then again in a longer memorandum:

Due to return to academia in the fall of 2010, the two lawyers finished their second Awlaki memorandum, whose reasoning was widely approved by other administration lawyers, that summer. It had ballooned to about 63 pages but remained narrowly tailored to Mr. Awlaki’s circumstances, blessing lethal force against him without addressing whether it would also be permissible to kill citizens, like low-ranking members of Al Qaeda, in other situations.

Nearly three years later, a version of the legal analysis portions would become public in the “white paper,” which stripped out all references to Mr. Awlaki while retaining echoes, like its discussion of a generic “senior operational leader.” Divorced from its original context and misunderstood as a general statement about the scope and limits of the government’s authority to kill citizens, the free-floating reasoning would lead to widespread confusion.

I would just like to say that there’s an easy way to restore the memorandum’s original context and eliminate any possible misunderstanding about the scope and limits of the government’s authority to kill citizens. Right?

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This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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