Vanderbilt Law Review


Mike Dreyfuss

First Page



Silent and cold. At twenty thousand feet, the temperature is minus ten degrees Fahrenheit. At almost a thousand miles per hour, sound cannot keep up. Heat and noise struggle in the turbulence. Three miles away, seven thousand miles from American soil, an American citizen driving an empty road has ten seconds to live. As a leader in an organization actively engaged in armed conflict against the United States, this American citizen has become an enemy of the United States. In response to the threat he poses to his fellow Americans, his government added him to a kill list, targeted him, and launched a military operation against him. The Hellfire finds its mark. The heat and noise catch up.' The United States targets and kills U.S. citizens, but debate rages over the targeted killing program's legality. The most recent case, Al-Aulaqi v. Obama, set the U.S. government against the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU") and the Center for Constitutional Rights ("CCR"). Around Christmas 2009, after the government placed Anwar Al-Aulaqi on a kill list, his father, Nasser A1-Aulaqi, challenged the placement. The legal battle saw substantial coverage in the popular and legal press, but the issue was never decided on its merits. For A1-Aulaqi himself, the point is now moot- we already killed him. After the killing, the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel for the Obama Administration prepared a secret memo ("OLC memo") detailing why it believed the practice was legal as applied to Al-Aulaqi. The Supreme Court has not yet decided the legality of this type of targeted killing, but members of the Court considered it when deciding a related issue. This Note argues the U.S. government can conduct extrajudicial targeted killings of U.S. citizens legally by adhering to international law and domestic due process protections. This Note examines only targeted killings by the United States of its own citizens. Its focus is therefore different and more constrained than prior scholarship on targeted killing.