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Last week’s CIA drone killing of two American-born jihadis has raised plenty of questions, chief among them: Who decides when the U.S. government can kill one of its own citizens abroad without due process?
Reuters went looking for the answer and reports that the decision on who makes it on the so-called "kill list" is made by a secret government panel within the White House’s National Security Council. Just how secret is the group? There are no public record of its existence or its actions.
The White House declined to discuss anything about the process of putting an American on the list, but a senior lawmaker sketched out a rough outline earlier this week while talking to reporters.
The process involves “going through the National Security Council, then it eventually goes to the president, but the National Security Council does the investigation, they have lawyers, they review, they look at the situation, you have input from the military, and also, we make sure that we follow international law,” explained Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Under the condition of anonymity, former and current government officials gave Reuters a more complete picture:
They said targeting recommendations are drawn up by a committee of mid-level National Security Council and agency officials. Their recommendations are then sent to the panel of NSC "principals," meaning Cabinet secretaries and intelligence unit chiefs, for approval. The panel of principals could have different memberships when considering different operational issues, they said.
The president is informed of the panel's decision, but not necessarily required to approve it, a protocol that one senior official explained was designed to “protect” the president.