CIA can kill citizens who aid al-Qaida
Bush doesn't exempt Americans

John J. Lumpkin
Associated Press
Dec. 4, 2002 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON - American citizens working for al-Qaida 
overseas can legally be targeted and killed by the 
CIA under President Bush's rules for the war on 
terrorism, U.S. officials say.

The authority to kill U.S. citizens is granted under 
a secret finding signed by the president after the 
Sept. 11 attacks that directs the CIA to covertly 
attack al-Qaida anywhere in the world. The authority 
makes no exception for Americans, so permission to 
strike them is understood rather than specifically 
described, officials said.

These officials said the authority will be used only 
when other options are unavailable. Militarylike strikes 
will take place only when law enforcement and internal 
security efforts by allied foreign countries fail, 
the officials said.

Capturing and questioning al-Qaida operatives is 
preferable, even more so if an operative is a U.S. 
citizen, the officials said, speaking on condition 
of anonymity. Any decision to strike an American 
would be made at the highest levels, perhaps by 
the president.

U.S. officials say few Americans are working with 
al-Qaida, but no specific estimates are available.

The CIA has killed one American under this authority, 
although U.S. officials maintain he wasn't the target.

On Nov. 3, a CIA-operated Predator drone fired a missile 
that killed a carload of suspected al-Qaida operatives 
in Yemen. The target of the attack, a Yemeni named Qaed 
Salim Sinan al-Harethi, was the top al-Qaida operative 
in that country. Efforts by Yemeni authorities to detain 
him had previously failed.

But the CIA didn't know a U.S. citizen, Yemeni-American 
Kamal Derwish, was in the car. He died along with Harethi 
and four other Yemenis.

The Bush administration said the killing of an American 
in this fashion was legal.

"I can assure you that no constitutional questions are raised 
here. There are authorities that the president can give to 
officials," Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security 
adviser, said after the attack. "He's well within the balance 
of accepted practice and the letter of his constitutional 

American authorities have alleged that Derwish was the leader 
of an al-Qaida cell in suburban Buffalo, N.Y. Officials say 
most of the members of the cell were arrested and charged 
with supporting terrorists, but Derwish was not accused of 
any crime in American courts.

The administration defined Derwish as an enemy combatant, 
the equivalent of a U.S. citizen who fights alongside the 
enemy on a battlefield, officials said. Under this legal 
definition, experts say, his constitutional rights are 
nullified and he can be killed outright.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., vice chairman of the Senate 
Intelligence Committee, supported this policy. "A U.S. 
citizen terrorist will kill you just like somebody from 
another country."

The government has done little publicly to justify Derwish's killing. 
Officials have privately suggested his association with Harethi was 
reason enough.

Other Americans have been similarly classed since Sept. 11, including 
Jose Padilla, accused of plotting to use a radioactive "dirty bomb" 
in the United States, and Yaser Esam Hamdi, who was found fighting 
alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. Both are in military custody.

However, a third American, John Walker Lindh, was turned over to the 
civilian courts after being found serving as a foot soldier with the 
Taliban. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty 
to supplying services to the Taliban and carrying explosives in 
commission of a felony.

Although officials believe only a small number of U.S. citizens went 
through Osama bin Laden's camps, Americans have been associated with 
all levels of al-Qaida.

This includes high-level operative Wadih El Hage, a Lebanese-American 
who was convicted in connection with the 1998 bombings of two 
U.S. embassies in Africa. A former U.S. Army soldier, Ali Mohamed, 
worked as a trainer and target scout for bin Laden before he was 
captured and convicted.

Previously, the government's authority to kill a citizen outside 
the judicial process has been generally restricted to when the 
American is directly threatening the lives of other Americans 
or their allies.

Earlier presidential authorizations of lethal covert action, in 
Latin America and elsewhere, have also tacitly allowed the 
killing of Americans fighting on the other side, former senior 
intelligence officials said.

But the officials knew of no instances where U.S. citizens were targeted.

Experts on the Constitution and the international laws of war 
said the Bush administration's definitions create problems.

Unlike the enemy in previous wars, al-Qaida members don't wear 
uniforms or serve in a foreign nation's army. Nor do they take 
to traditional battlefields, except in Afghanistan. But the 
Bush administration and al-Qaida together have defined the 
entire world as a battlefield, meaning the attack on Harethi 
and Derwish was tantamount to an airstrike in a combat zone.

"That is the most vulnerable aspect of the theory," said Scott Silliman, 
director of Duke University's Center on Law, Ethics and National 
Security. "Could you put a Hellfire missile into a car in Washington, 
D.C., under the same theory? The answer is yes, you could."

Human rights groups were divided on the legality of the attack on 
Harethi. Amnesty International suggested it was an extrajudicial 
killing, outlawed by international treaty, while Human Rights 
Watch officials said they believed it was a legitimate wartime action.

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