(London, UK) CAGE  has criticised a US Department of Justice legal memo  that was used to justify the killing of an American citizen in Yemen.
Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Imam was killed in a targeted drone strike in 2011. His extra-judicial killing was widely condemned by leading rights’ groups for violating fundamental norms. 
The heavily-redacted memo was released yesterday in response to lawsuits filed by The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act.
In response, CAGE states the following:
1- Even though the US was not at war with Yemen at the time of al-Awlaki's killing, the administration resorted to the law of armed conflict and international humanitarian law (IHL), which are especially reserved for armed conflict situations, to justify their drone programme. To treat the world as a battlefield in this way is contrary to the norms of international law.
2- The US targeted killing justification goes against safeguards put in place to assess how soon someone is about to make an attack. The US Administration holds that al-Awlaki posed a “continued imminent threat”. The ‘white paper’ leaked in 2013 states “…imminent threat of violent attack against United Sates does not require United States to have a clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future”. The US interpretation on ‘imminence’ is a full frontal assault on traditional international law, and the new memo does not provide any legal analysis to support the administration’s position. CAGE’s investigation into the targeted killing, determined that Awlaki did not plausibly have an operational role so as to trigger an imminent threat. 
3- The memo is dated 16 July 2010, months after Anwar al-Awlaki was designated on a kill list, and 14 months before the targeted killing took place in 2011. Hence it is reasonable to question whether al-Awlaki posed a ‘concrete, specific and imminent threat’ so as to classify the targeted strike lawful.
4- International human rights law was only referenced twice in the same footnote, in view to explain why IHRL is not applicable or relevant. However, that legal framework should be given more virtue as it should be one of the main legal frameworks to govern targeted killings by way of drone strikes outside the context of armed conflict or war.
1. CAGE (formerly known as CagePrisoners) is an independent advocacy organisation that works to empower communities affected by the War on Terror and to highlight abuses of due process.
2. The memo can be accessed here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/230986047/Barron-Memorandum
3. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights brought a lawsuit on behalf of Anwar al-Awlaki's father, challenging the government's authority to carry out targetted killings.
4. CAGE’s report on the killing of both Anwar al-Awlaki and his son who also an American citizen can be read here: https://cage.ngo/publication/unnecessary-and-disproportional-killings-anwar-and-abdul-rahman-al-awlaki-0
Contact: Mr Amandla Thomas-Johnson
Phone: +(44) 207 377 6700
27 Old Gloucester Street
NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.