US Attorney General justifies terrorism kill policy

US Attorney General Eric Holder [5 March 2012] US Attorney General Eric Holder said the US was at war with extremists

Related Stories

The US has for the first time outlined when it will kill Americans who are plotting attacks against the country.

US Attorney General Eric Holder said American citizens living abroad could legally be targeted with "lethal force" if there was an imminent threat.

The Obama administration was criticised by civil liberties groups after it killed the US-born Islamist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in September 2011.

But Mr Holder said the US was "at war", so court approval was not needed.

'Threat justifies force'

In a speech at the Northwestern School of Law in Chicago, he said use of lethal force would be governed by the laws of war, but sometimes the government had to act quickly, making it impractical to seek permission from a court.

"Military and civilian officials must often make real-time decisions that balance the need to act, the existence of alternative options, the possibility of collateral damage, and other judgements," said Mr Holder.

"All of which depend on expertise and immediate access to information that only the Executive Branch may possess in real time."

Start Quote

We simply cannot afford to wait until deadly plans are carried out”

End Quote Eric Holder US Attorney General

He said force would only be used if a target was a senior figure in al-Qaeda or an affiliated organisation, it was not possible to capture them, and efforts to avoid hurting others were taken.

"The principle of humanity requires us to use weapons that will not inflict unnecessary suffering," he said. "These principles do not forbid the use of stealth or technologically advanced weapons."

The US has used remotely controlled aircraft known as drones to target many al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mr Holder did not discuss any current programmes, but said the threat posed by extremists justified the use of force.

"The unfortunate reality is that our nation will likely continue to face terrorist threats that, at times, originate with our own citizens," he said.

"When such individuals take up arms against this country, and join al-Qaeda in plotting attacks designed to kill their fellow Americans, there may be only one realistic and appropriate response.

"We must take steps to stop them, in full accordance with the Constitution. In this hour of danger, we simply cannot afford to wait until deadly plans are carried out; and we will not."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    They just want to escape responsibility for accidental civilian casualties by using excuses such as imminent threats, the laws of war and etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    So long as democracy rules I see no problem with ANY country taking this action;a person has given up any right to decency once terrorism is involved, HOWEVER, how many countries came into existance because of terrorism, America, Eire, Israel, Jordan...I define terrorism as the takeing of innocent lives without taking combating to a regular Army,but the debate is too wide ranging for 150 letters!


More US & Canada stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.