NBC News has released a copy of a DOJ "white paper" (PDF) (source: Glenn Greenwald) that is said to summarize the super-double-top-secret memo that, we are told, sets forth the legal rationale for the President's asserted power to blow up U.S. citizens. You still aren't allowed to see the memo itself, probably because the power and brilliance of the legal thought shining forth from it would melt your face off like in Raiders of the Lost Ark. So, for your safety, DOJ wrote a memo about the memo and is letting you read that.
This version is still painful to read, but not immediately fatal.
I've written about this before (see "For Christmas, Your Government Will Explain Why It's Legal to Kill You" (Dec. 21, 2011) "AG Sort of Explains When and Why the President Could Drop a Bomb on You" (Mar. 6, 2012); and "Professor: Maybe Secret Legal Memos Are Secret Because They Suck" (July 30, 2012)) so let's just cut straight to the new memo. Hold onto your faces!
Here are the conditions under which the Department of Justice—and again, this is the U.S. DOJ, not one in Bazorkostan or wherever—has concluded that the President can have a U.S. citizen killed even though that person is not engaged in "active hostilities":
- the citizen is a senior operational leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force;
- an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States;
- capture is infeasible (and we continue to monitor whether capture becomes feasible); and
- the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.
The memo actually says there are three conditions (2, 3, & 4 above), but assumes for purposes of the argument that the target is a "senior operational leader" as described. So let's call that a fourth condition.
Here I'm just going to mock the first two.