News Release

DOJ White Paper on Extrajudicial Execution of U.S. Citizens Tortures Core American Constitutional Principles

Washington, DC (February 5, 2013) – Overnight, NBC News exclusively released a confidential Department of Justice document that purports to justify the extrajudicial execution of U.S. citizens by an Executive Branch acting as prosecutor, judge and jury and with no charges, hearing or opportunity to be heard for the accused. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) is deeply disturbed by the contortion of the legal principles of warfare and self-defense reflected in this “White Paper.”

“While the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process may not provide a citizen with absolute ‘constitutional immunity’ from an extrajudicial killing by the United States Government, it does act as a shield--one that is not put down simply because a citizen is outside the physical boundaries of our country,” NACDL President Steven D. Benjamin said. “Regardless of what the laws of war may or may not provide, our government can and should be working to ensure the protection of U.S. citizens, and not to enshrine tortured justifications for their execution. The very idea that the Obama administration has undertaken this effort to legitimize what amounts to extrajudicial capital punishment takes us right through the looking glass to a legal terrain fundamentally at odds with core American constitutional principles.”

NACDL reiterates its call for the administration to release the actual Office of Legal Counsel legal opinion which sets out the framework for when the Government believes it may legally kill a U.S. citizen who is away from a hot battlefield. This white paper--which "does not attempt to determine minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful"--is patently insufficient to provide citizens with adequate notice of what actions may get them killed at the hands of the U.S. Government.

To this end, in the fall of 2011, NACDL filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a copy of the actual legal memorandum. To date, the Department of Justice has refused to disclose this memorandum to the American people.

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Ivan J. Dominguez, Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.