A secret Justice Department memo sanctioned the killing of Anwar al Awlaki, the American-born cleric and terror plotter who was killed by a drone strike Yemen on Friday, according to The Washington Post.
Under the code name Objective Troy, intelligence tracked Awlaki for months near his hideout in Yemen. Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who became an al Qaeda propagandist and operational leader, the Post and CBS reported.
The document followed a review by senior administration lawyers of the legal issues raised by the lethal targeting of a U.S. citizen.
Administration officials told the Post that there was no dissent about the legality of the killing.
The administration is facing a legal challenge over its targeting of Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents. The memorandum may represent an attempt to resolve a legal debate over whether a U.S. president can order the killing of American citizens. A CIA official told the Post that the attack would not have occurred without the memo sanctioning it.
With regard to the killing as a counter-terrorism measure, the memo deems, in the words of one officials, "due process in war."
"The administration has tried to make very clear that this was an act of self-defense, that Awlaki was part of not only al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, but he was the external operations chief. He was ongoing in his plotting against American citizens - not only having done so in the past, but continuing to do so in an imminent way," said CBS News national security analyst Juan Zarate.
"So based on the rules of self-defense, based on the principles that we're at war with al Qaeda and the fact that he was a part of the group, self-professed, all of that suggests that it's lawful and appropriate to go after him and to kill him," Zarate said.
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