License to Kill: Government Authorizes Drone Strikes on US Citizens

Secret White House memo reveals justification for government targeting Americans.
2:11 | 02/05/13

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Transcript for License to Kill: Government Authorizes Drone Strikes on US Citizens
woe, we turn to that secret document, 16 pages long and stirring up so much controversy tonight. It is a kind of handbook for lethal power against terrorists, even if they are american citizens. Abc's chief white house correspondent jonathan karl tells us about the news today. Reporter: By one count, president obama has already used unmanned cia drones to drop strike more than 300 suspected terrorist targets, even more than his predecessor. But today we learned just how much authority the administration believes it has to kill, without trial or evidence, suspected terrorists, even american citizens. A newly disclosed justice department document says american citizens tied to al qaeda can be killed, if, "an informs, high-level official believes the target poses an imminent threat." But the documents say, it, quote, does not quire the goo have clear evidence. Case in point, anwar al awlaki, top al qaeda leader, linked to several terrorist attacks. He was killed in a 2011 drone strike. Human rights advocates say the justice department memo goes way too far. And -- justifies essentially a claim that the executive branch can be judge, jury and executioner. Reporter: As soon as he became president, barack obama stopped cia tactics like waterboarding that he considered torture. But this justifies outright killing of a suspect ed terrorist. How does dropping a bomb on american citizens without any judicial review, any trial, not raise the very human rights questions, or more human rights questions, than something like waterboarding? The president understands the gravity of these issues. taking very seriously his responsibilities. Reporter: The white house says that the president's top priority has been to protect the american people in a way consistent with our values. But you can expect that his choice to run the cia if face sharp questions later this week, and diane, some in congress say they want to impose limits on the min straight's ability to use drone strikes. All right, jonathan karl reporting in from the white house. Thank you, jon.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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