Center for Constitutional Rights Responds to Newly Released Targeted Killing White Paper

February 5, 2013, New York – In response to the release of a Justice Department white paper titled, “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qa’ida or An Associated Force,” the Center for Constitutional Rights made the statements below. Also today, the Center for Constitutional Rights will be filing a brief with the ACLU arguing against current and former administration officials’ attempt to keep out of court a case challenging the targeted killing of three American citizens, one of whom is the subject of this white paper.

Said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, “This white paper’s claim of executive power is disturbing enough on its own, but it doesn’t describe the vast majority of targeted killings being carried out by the U.S. government, which now number in the thousands. The government claims the authority to target a U.S. citizen who is a ‘senior operational leader of Al Qa’ida or an associated force,’ but it doesn’t provide an analysis that would explain, for example, the killing of our client’s grandson, 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al Aulaqi, nor does it describe the so-called signature strike killings of people whose identities are unknown but who fit some undisclosed profile.
“One of the most dangerous aspects of the white paper is the claim that ‘there exists no appropriate judicial forum to evaluate these constitutional considerations’ either before or after a killing,” continued Kebriaei. “The heart of our lawsuit is a demand for administration officials to account for these killings in a court of law.”
Said Center for Constitutional Rights Executive Director Vincent Warren, “The parallels to the Bush administration torture memos are chilling. Those were unchecked legal justifications drawn up to justify torture; these are unchecked justifications drawn up to justify extrajudicial killing. President Obama released the Bush torture memos to be transparent; he must release his own legal memos and not just a Cliffs Notes version for public consumption, particularly when scores of civilian lives are at stake. Despite this attempt to appear transparent, the program remains opaque. This will rightly raise many questions for John Brennan at his confirmation hearing on Thursday beyond his role in the Bush torture program, since he is among the main architects of the Obama administration targeted killing program.” 
For more on the lawsuit, visit the Al Aulaqi v. Panetta case page. The case challenges the government’s assertion that the president has the unilateral authority to carry out the targeted killing of any American it designates a terrorism suspect, whether or not they present a truly imminent threat, are located far from any battlefield, or have ever been charged or convicted of any crime.  

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at


Last modified 

February 5, 2013