A U.S. Justice Department secret memo is said to have authorized the targeting of American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki who was killed in Yemen, The Washington Post reported Friday.
A former senior intelligence official told the newspaper that the CIA would not have killed a U.S. citizen without the Justice Department's written opinion.
The memo was written after senior lawyers from President Barack Obama’s administration reviewed the legal concerns about targeting a U.S. national, the report said.
Other officials told the newspaper there was no dissent about the legality of killing Awlaki, the first American citizen placed on the CIA's “kill or capture” list.
“What constitutes due process in this case is a due process in war,” an administration official told the Post after Awlaqi died in a U.S. drone strike conducted by the CIA and military assets under CIA control, the report said.
The White House has refused to confirm specific details about the operation.
An Obama administration official earlier said in a statement that “as a general matter, it would be entirely lawful for the United States to target high-level leaders of enemy forces, regardless of their nationality, who are plotting to kill Americans.”
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, cited the authority of Congress “as well as established international law that recognizes our right of self-defense,” to justify the targeting of U.S. enemies.
Critics have asked that the Obama administration publicly state its legal standards for killing outside the United States any terror suspect who is an American citizen, saying the practice would otherwise amount to extrajudicial execution in violation of U.S. and international law.
Another official told The Post that the CIA did not know that Samir Khan, a second American killed in the attack in Yemen, was with Awlaki.
Qaeda claims attacks
Meanwhile, Qaeda’s Yemen branch issued a new claim of deadly attacks dated on the same day that Awlaqi was killed in an apparent U.S. drone strike.
In the statement received by AFP in the main southern Yemeni city Aden, Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed a series of attacks in the south but made no mention of Awlaqi’s death in an air strike east of Sanaa on Friday.
AQAP said it had killed 130 Yemeni troops in an attack on a garrison in the Abyan provincial capital Zinjibar, east of Aden, on September 14.
It said it had killed two Yemeni soldiers in an attack on September 11 and 10 in another the following day.
Hundreds of militants from the Qaeda linked Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law) group overran Zinjibar in May and the city and adjacent towns have since been the scene of bitter fighting with the army.
AQAP has taken advantage of the weakening of central authority by nearly nine months of deadly protests against veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh to bolster its presence in several southern provinces as well as Marib province, where Awlaqi was killed.