Obama Lawyers: Executive Branch, Not Courts, Will Decide Which U.S. Citizens Are Enemies

December 1, 2011 - 11:01 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Top national security lawyers in the Obama administration say U.S. citizens are legitimate military targets when they take up arms with al-Qaida.

The lawyers were asked at a national security conference Thursday about the CIA killing of Anwar al-Alwaki, a U.S. citizen and leading al-Qaida figure. He died in a Sept. 30 U.S. drone strike in the mountains of Yemen.

The government lawyers — CIA counsel Stephen Preston and Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson — did not directly address the al-Alwaki case. But they said U.S. citizens don't have immunity when they're at war with the United States.

Johnson said only the executive branch, not the courts, are equipped to make decisions about who qualifies as an enemy.