An unmanned drone
Washington, Feb. 11: The Obama administration is debating whether to authorise a lethal strike against an American citizen living in Pakistan who some believe is actively plotting terrorist attacks, according to current and former government officials.
It is the first time American officials have actively discussed killing an American citizen overseas since President Obama imposed new restrictions on drone operations last May.
The officials would not confirm the identity of the suspect, or provide any information about what evidence they have amassed about the suspect’s involvement in attacks against Americans.
The debate about whether to put the individual on a kill list was first reported on Monday by The Associated Press.
The first time the Obama administration carried out a targeted killing operation against an American citizen was in September 2011, when a CIA drone killed the radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen; officials said little publicly about the operation.
The White House acknowledged last year that four American citizens had been killed in drone strikes during Obama’s time in office. According to the White House, only Awlaki had been intentionally targeted.
During a speech last May, Obama said he intended to gradually shift drone operations from the CIA to the Pentagon, partly to make them more transparent. American officials said then that drone strikes in Pakistan would continue to be launched by the CIA because Pakistan refuses to allow open American military operations on its soil.
However, under a classified policy issued by Obama, there is a strong preference for the Pentagon — not the CIA — to carry out drone strikes against American citizens, though the policy is said to allow exceptions if necessary.
American officials said that the new discussions about whether to strike the American in Pakistan had been going on since the middle of last year. The public got a glimpse of the debate last week when Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, spoke angrily about the drone restrictions imposed by Obama.
“Individuals who would have been previously removed from the battlefield by US counterterrorism operations for attacking or plotting to attack against US interests remain free because of self-imposed red tape,” Rogers, a Republican, said.
The new rules, he said, are “endangering the lives of Americans at home and our military overseas in a way that is frustrating to our allies and frustrating to those of us who engage in the oversight of our classified activities.”
Still, several senior officials in both the executive branch and Congress confirmed that even though the policy establishes a baseline rule that only the Pentagon is to conduct drone strikes against American citizens, a clause makes an exception that would in theory allow the administration to use the CIA to carry out a strike if circumstances justified it.