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United States

White House says drone strikes against Americans are "legal"

The White House has said US drone strikes against American al Qaeda members is "legal," defending an internal memo that was leaked by US media. Meanwhile, The New York Times has uncovered a US drone base in Saudi Arabia.

The White House has defended drone strikes against al Qaeda suspects as "legal" and insists they comply with US law and the Constitution, even if Americans are targeted.

The statement came in response to questions at a White House press conference Tuesday, when spokesman Jay Carney was asked to clarify a Department of Justice memo about drone strikes that targeted US citizens.

The memo argued that Americans accused of being high up in al Qaeda or "associated forces" could lawfully be killed even if intelligence fails to prove they have plotted an attack.

"We conduct those strikes because they are necessary to mitigate ongoing actual threats, to stop plots, to prevent future attacks and, again, save American lives," Carney said.

"These strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise."

Among the controversial drone attacks were the September 2011 killings of US citizens, Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan in Yemen. Al-Walaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, also an American citizen, was killed in a US drone strike in Yemen the following month.

"I would point you to the ample judicial precedent for the idea that someone who takes up arms against the United States in a war against the United States is an enemy and therefore could be targeted accordingly," Carney said.

NBC news originally leaked the 16-page memo, which was given to the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees in June on condition it be kept confidential and not discussed publicly.

The memo is entitled "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of al Qaeda or An Associated Force."

The leak comes just two days before John Brennan, the White House counter-terrorism chief, appears before the Senate for hearings on his nomination as the new head of the CIA.

Brennan has been a central player in the US drone campaign, which has significantly expanded under President Barack Obama despite criticism.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday evening local time The New York Times disclosed on its website that the US has been conducting drone strikes from a remote base in Saudi Arabia for the past two years.

The Associated Press first reported the construction of the base in June 2011 but withheld the exact location. The Times reports that the drone strike that killed the US-born al Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki was launched from the base.

hc/dr (AP, AFP)