News Release

DOJ Must Explain Missile Attacks on U.S. Citizens Abroad 

WASHINGTON, DC (Oct. 28, 2011) – In the past few weeks, U.S. Predator drone aircraft have targeted and killed three U.S. citizens in Yemen. In late September, citizens Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed by a missile from a U.S. Predator drone aircraft.

Two weeks ago, a juvenile, Awlaki’s Denver-born son Abdulrahman, 16, was also killed in a missile strike, according to his family. U.S. officials have not publicly acknowledged his death, but , according to media reports, the administration officials have said that they did not know the younger al-Awlaki was in the same group as the intended target.

Media and individuals across the political spectrum are calling for the government to explain the legal reasoning behind the killings. The public needs to know how such decisions are made, and any legal basis justifying them. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) has filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking legal memoranda justifying the targeting of individuals overseas with lethal force and the role the Department of Justice plays in extrajudicial executions.

“These missile strikes look like executions before judgment,” said NACDL President Lisa Wayne of Denver. “The Constitution prohibits depriving any individual of life or liberty without due process of law, and the Supreme Court has prohibited execution of juveniles under any circumstances.

“By what right and through what procedures does the Executive Branch unilaterally impose capital punishment?

“The reputation of the United States is at stake, and the Justice Department needs to answer some questions. What process is due to a U.S. citizen or legal resident before they may be designated for extrajudicial execution by the Executive Branch of our government? What evidence is used to determine guilt? Are mitigating factors taken into account? Is there an advocate to argue against selection? What is the burden of proof? What notice does the targeted individual receive? Is there an appeal process, internally or by the target?”

The FOIA request specifically seeks all memoranda and communications in the possession of the Justice Department that will shed light on any of these questions.

“The American public has a right to know how U.S. citizens are chosen for government execution without a judge, jury or appeal,” Wayne said.

A copy of NACDL’s FOIA request dated October 18, 2011, is here.

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Jack King, Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7628 or

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.