U.S. weighs putting American terror suspect on hit list
The Obama administration is considering authorizing the CIA or the military to kill an American citizen hiding in Pakistan who allegedly has helped al-Qaida fighters plan attacks against U.S. troops in Afghanistan and is actively plotting future attacks, officials said Monday.
Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is considering authorizing the CIA or the military to kill an American citizen hiding in Pakistan who allegedly has helped al-Qaida fighters plan attacks against U.S. troops in Afghanistan and is actively plotting future attacks, officials said Monday.
Justice Department lawyers are reviewing the evidence and have not yet determined whether President Obama should consider adding the American, whose identity was not disclosed, to the list of terrorism suspects who are hunted and killed overseas by drones, airstrikes or military raids.
The process has been complicated by the suspect’s U.S. citizenship and new criteria for the targeted killing of Americans, officials said.
Under guidelines approved by Obama in May, a potential target must pose “a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons.” Americans proposed for the so-called kill list also are entitled to legal due process, which the administration has interpreted to mean a review by the Justice Department.
The case could revive the bitter congressional debate over administration counterterrorism policies, including drone strikes, that delayed Senate confirmation of CIA Director John Brennan.
The Associated Press reported Monday that the suspect, who was unspecified, was well guarded and in a remote location, so any raid by U.S. troops to capture him would be risky and possibly even more politically sensitive than launching an airstrike or drone attack.
Under the new guidelines, drone strikes and other lethal force can be used outside war zones only “to prevent or stop attacks against U.S. persons, and even then, only when capture is not feasible and no other reasonable alternatives exist to address the threat effectively.” Pakistan would be considered outside a war zone.
A senior administration official said that under the policy, the U.S. military should be used whenever possible if an American is targeted. But the president can authorize the CIA to act if the military is constrained.
Pakistan does not allow the U.S. military to operate there, and the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 sparked outrage in the country. The CIA has launched hundreds of lethal drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, with Islamabad publicly criticizing the campaign but widely seen as giving tacit approval. However, the agency has not fired any missiles since December, at the request of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Some CIA and military special-operations counterterrorism officials are frustrated at what they view as bureaucratic hurdles, two officials said.
During the debate last year, members of Congress from both parties demanded that potential American targets be given a chance to surrender and mount a defense in U.S. courts, rather than killed without facing charges or a trial.
Others argued that an American who takes up arms against his country abroad is a legitimate military target and is not entitled to constitutional protections.
Several Americans have been linked to al-Qaida in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
They include Adam Gadahn, a spokesman for al-Qaida who was born in Oregon and grew up in Santa Ana, Calif. He is seen as a propagandist, rather than an operational figure, and is under federal indictment in California.
The others are Abu Ibrahim Amriki and Sayfullah al-Amriki, both of whom were reportedly on the CIA target list in 2010, according to the Islamabad newspaper News Online.
U.S. drones have killed four Americans since 2009, but only one, Anwar al-Awlaki, was specifically targeted. Al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, was killed in Yemen in 2011.
The three others were Samir Khan, who was killed with al-Awlaki; al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, who was killed in Yemen two weeks later; and Jude Kenan Mohammad, who was killed in late 2011 in Pakistan’s tribal area.