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More links in the drone kill chain

The U.S. Justice Department has apparently given a dubious legal OK for senior Obama Administration officials--not just the President himself--to order the killing of any U.S. citizen abroad if he is thought to be a "senior operational leader of al-Qaida or an associated force."

after it obtained the unsigned 16-page white paper--which defines al-Qaida as a "terrorist organization engaged in constant plotting against the United States," a definition that the paper's authors use to justify killing al-Qaida associates any time, anywhere, under the law of war that authorizes "self defense." NBC's Michael Isikoff:

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In other words, membership in al-Qaida, as determined by U.S. intelligence officials, in secret, marks one as an enemy combatant and "imminent threat" against the U.S. and its people; ergo, killing is "justified as an act of national defense." The paper's legal argument is built largely on the

, the American who was captured "on the battlefield" in Afghanistan shortly after the U.S. invaded in 2002. Since then, of course, capture has given way to drone strikes, such as the one that killed Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen last fall. Or the one that killed his 16-year-old son a little later.

City Paper

took note of the

. The technology is evolving to take humans out of the decision process completely. Because al-Qaida by definition is "always plotting," the word "imminent," as used in the white paper, "does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future." i.e.--it does not mean "imminent." The "weight of the governemnt's interest in protecting its citizens from an imminent attack are such that the Constitution would not require the government to provide further [due] process to such U.S. citizen before using lethal force," the white paper says.

and made the obvious call:

this morning, focusing high up on the paper's provenance:

The white paper says that the courts should play no role in reviewing or restraining the decision to kill Americans. Just to get a wiretap on Americans allegedly plotting with foreigners, the feds supposedly need to go to a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. But a drone strike is the executive's (or his senior assistant's) call.

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