White House Won’t Comment on Reuters Story About Secret Panel That Can Put Americans on ‘Kill List’

Reuters’ Mark Hosenball today reported http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/05/us-cia-killlist-idUSTRE79475C20111005 that: “American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions, according to officials. There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council, several current and former officials said. Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.”

Hosenball reported that the panel “was behind the decision to add Awlaki, a U.S.-born militant preacher with alleged al Qaeda connections, to the target list. He was killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen late last month.”

Asked for comment about the below Reuters story, National Security Staff spokesman Tommy Vietor sent me the following statement:

“I cannot provide details about our cooperation with the Yemeni government on counterterrorism operations. As a general matter, however, it would be entirely lawful for the United States to target the high-level leaders of enemy forces who are plotting to kill Americans both under the authority provided by Congress for the use of military force in the armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces as well as under established international law that recognizes our right of self-defense.

“The legal analysis would be slightly different with respect to U.S. citizens, as we would have to take into account any constitutional protections that might apply to a U.S. citizen who is leading enemy forces in their efforts to kill innocent Americans. Any time we use force, I want to assure you that we do so with extraordinary care and in full accordance with U.S. law and the international law of armed conflict.”

Of course, I didn’t ask about cooperation with the Yemeni government on counterterrorism operations.

So being more specific, I asked about the Reuters’ story detailing the existence of a secret panel that can put US citizens on a kill list with no due process or public legal justification.

Vietor said the paragraph he sent provides “All the guidance I have for you on the question of legality…We have no additional comment.”

You may recall a few days ago White House press secretary Jay Carney was even less forthcoming on this matter. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/09/todays-qs-for-os-wh-9302011/

-Jake Tapper

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