Leaks regarding a secret legal memorandum on the targeted killing of Anwar Al Awaki shed light on the Obama administration's decision to authorize the killing of a US citizen without trial, the New York Times reports.
Al Awlawki, a radical muslim cleric born in the United States was hiding in Yemen when he was targeted and killed by US forces, sparking a spirited public debate over whether such a move was lawful.
Sources with access to the memo, written last year, told the NYT the decision came after months of extensive inter-agency deliberations over what may prove to be the most controversial legal decision made by US president Barack Obama to date.
Those sources, however, say the document was narrowly drawn to the specifics of Al Awaki's case so as not establish a broad new doctrine to permit the killing of Americans in other circumstances.
The memo, they say, was intended to justify the Al Awlaki killing in light of an executive order banning assassinations, applicable federal statutes against murder, constitutional protections, and various strictures of the international laws of war.
The legal analysis reportedly relied upon several factual assertions by intelligence officials, including that Al Awlaki was playing a direct role in terrorist operations against the US, was affiliated with Al Qaeda's terrorist network, and any hope of apprehending him was unrealistic.
The sources told the NYT that the memorandum, written more than a year before Al Awaki was killed, did not seek to examine the validity of the assertions made by intelligence officials and instead treated them as premises to derive legal theory from.
The Obama administration has refused to acknowledge or discuss its role in the strike, which officially remains a covert operation.