I have a piece up at the Prospect about the memo uncovered by Isikoff. Perhaps the biggest problem with the framework is a definition of “imminent threat” that, if it’s more rigorous than the balsa wood drones about to rain terror on Des Moines that gave us the Iraq War, isn’t much more:
Much of the coverage of the memo, including Isikoff’s story, focuses on the justifications offered by the Obama administration for killing American citizens, including Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan (two alleged Al Qaeda operatives killed by a 2011 airstrike in Yemen.) In some respects, this focus is misplaced. If military action is truly justified, then it can be exercised against American citizens (an American fighting for the Nazis on the battlefield would not have been entitled to due process.) Conversely, if military action is not justified, extrajudicial killings of non-Americans should hardly be less disturbing than the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen. The crucial question is whether the safeguards that determine when military action is justified are adequate.
On this crucial point, the framework laid out by the memo is very much inadequate. Several of the key terms laying out the conditions—what counts as an “informed” official? What levels of evidence are necessary?—are frustratingly vague. Particularly crucial is the question of what constitutes an “imminent threat.” If a threat is genuinely “imminent,” military action is more justifiable. If it isn’t, however, it becomes less plausible to argue that capture is “infeasible,” and treating a suspected terrorist as a police operation would be more important. It is damning, then, that the definition of what constitutes an “imminent threat” has very little bite.
Read the whole etc.
cf. also Serwer.
…point #2 from Glenn’s post is especially important: even these de minimis safeguards are a ceiling, not a floor.