‘Imminent’ Means Whatever the President Wants It to Mean

February 4th, 2013

A Justice Department memo providing the legal justification for drone strikes on American citizens has leaked. The key determinant is whether they provide an imminent threat to the U.S. “Imminent,” though, doesn’t mean “imminent”:

But the confidential Justice Department “white paper” introduces a more expansive definition of self-defense or imminent attack than described  by Brennan or Holder in their public speeches.  It refers, for example, to what it calls a “broader concept of imminence” than actual intelligence about any ongoing plot against the U.S. homeland.    

“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo states.

Instead, it says, an “informed, high-level” official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American  has been “recently” involved in “activities” posing a threat of a violent attack and “there is  no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.” The memo does not define “recently” or “activities.” 

Let’s restate that to be a little more taut: American citizens are killed when the president decides they need killed, and we call that “due process.”