Americans not immune if they act against U.S: CIA

WASHINGTON Thu Dec 1, 2011 6:52pm EST

The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Virginia, August 14, 2008.      REUTERS/Larry Downing

The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Virginia, August 14, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

Related Topics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - American citizens are not immune from being treated like an enemy if they take up arms against the United States, the CIA general counsel said on Thursday.

CIA General Counsel Stephen Preston was responding to a question at an American Bar Association national security conference about the killing of Americans overseas without presenting evidence of wrongdoing.

A CIA drone strike killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, earlier this year.

He was linked to failed plots to blow up a U.S.-bound passenger plane in 2009 and cargo planes headed for the United States in 2010, U.S. officials say.

Preston said he would not discuss Awlaki or any specific operations.

"I will make this observation that citizenship does not confer immunity on one who takes up arms against his own country. It didn't in World War Two when there were American citizens who joined the Nazi army and it doesn't today," Preston said.

Jeh Johnson, Defense Department general counsel, said he echoed Preston's comments "in terms of those who are combatants, part of the congressionally declared enemy, who also happen to be U.S. citizens."

But he said the same view would not apply to someone who was not considered an enemy combatant.

"We go down a slippery slope if an individual who wants to do harm to Americans and who is inspired in his own basement by the writings he has read from al Qaeda and he hasn't interacted with a single other individual in that group, yet he has decided to do violence against America based on what he read, in my view is not part of the congressionally declared enemy and we have to be careful not to go down that landscape," Johnson said.

He said it was not feasible to take decisions made on enemy combatants to courts each time.

"Courts are not equipped to make those types of decisions which very often are based moment-by-moment on an intelligence picture that constantly evolves," Johnson said.

(Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (9)
ElitistNot wrote:
And is what category does the CIA put people who take up arms against their own government in revolution but not for Al Qaeda or any external organization, but instead to overturn a tyrannical government and to restore the republic and democracy? Dangerous and slippery slope indeed Mr. CIA.

Dec 02, 2011 12:18am EST  --  Report as abuse
stevor wrote:
Hmmm. If this were Nazi Germany, how would it be if folks took up arms against their CORRUPT government? Since there are MANY “government” folks who are doing things CONTRARY to our Constitution, taking up arms against THOSE folks is the “right thing to do”!

Dec 02, 2011 12:36am EST  --  Report as abuse
wildthang wrote:
Quite likely the one they mention in Yemen was our agent for entrapping potential terrorist threats and then removed to new identity.
However on the face of it who decides, I suppose the CIA is the decider… what is taking up arms and if there is someone you don’t like how easy is it to decide they have taken up arms since it doesn’t have to be proven to anyone. Then there are the cases of mistaken identity that have been taken out in Afghanistan and Pakistan, what about them?
This just highlights deciding to take out Iraq for having WMD’s, if you can do it to countries and being wrong is no problem because you just wanted to get rid of a leader and revamp the country then you could do the same to a person, any person.
This kind of logic happens when giving up ethics and principles becomes commonplace and essentially means the country is committing suicide in the name of security… that is becoming a military police state. And all our professed principles ring hollow all around the world and our shrill condemnations begin to fall on deaf ears. But as long as Might Makes Right is international law then no one can do anything about it but then subtle changes begin and pick up steam over time.

Dec 02, 2011 12:44pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.