This post is being shared around on Facebook today. I'd specifically like to know about

But one of the jobs of the NSC is to oversee a secret panel that authorizes the assassination of “enemies of the United States Government” – including American citizens. These targeted killings are fully authorized by law under the Congressional military authorization act following 9/11. There is no trial, no due process, and no public record of the decision or the assassination itself.

Looking into it myself, I found the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists which seems related, but I'm not sure if it's the law being mentioned.

Direct text of the post is below:

Yesterday, the President removed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence from the NSC. He replaced them with Steve Bannon. Bannon has no government, intelligence, or high-level military experience; his experience is leading a propaganda outlet (Breitbart News) that peddles nationalist and white nationalist viewpoints. This would be deeply concerning in and of itself. But one of the jobs of the NSC is to oversee a secret panel that authorizes the assassination of “enemies of the United States Government” – including American citizens. These targeted killings are fully authorized by law under the Congressional military authorization act following 9/11. There is no trial, no due process, and no public record of the decision or the assassination itself. Just to recap the absurdity: the President of the United States has appointed a known propagandist, nationalist, and white supremacist to replace the highest military adviser in the country on a council that authorizes secret, legal, targeted killings of American citizens (and others) without due process.

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    Obama somewhat famously was a proponent of target killings. AG Eric Holder said "in a foreign country against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qa'ida or its associated forces, and who is actively engaged in planning to kill Americans, in the following circumstances: ...". Note that the killings seemed to be limited to al Qaeda and directly related organizations, which is important for the legality.
    – KAI
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 22:32
  • @KAI Why is that important for the legality?
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 15:18
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    @gerrit Please see the linked article on target killings. The legal justification is a law from 2001 that is specific to groups associated with 9/11.
    – KAI
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 17:05
  • The highest ranking Defense adviser is the Secretary of Defense.
    – user36356
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 19:53

2 Answers 2


That is mostly true, according to a 4 October 2011 Reuters article Secret panel can put Americans on "kill list':

American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions, according to officials.

There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House's National Security Council, several current and former officials said. Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.

The panel was behind the decision to add Awlaki, a U.S.-born militant preacher with alleged al Qaeda connections, to the target list. He was killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen late last month.

The role of the president in ordering or ratifying a decision to target a citizen is fuzzy. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to discuss anything about the process.

Current and former officials said that to the best of their knowledge, Awlaki, who the White House said was a key figure in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda's Yemen-based affiliate, had been the only American put on a government list targeting people for capture or death due to their alleged involvement with militants.

The White House is portraying the killing of Awlaki as a demonstration of President Barack Obama's toughness toward militants who threaten the United States. But the process that led to Awlaki's killing has drawn fierce criticism from both the political left and right.

In an ironic turn, Obama, who ran for president denouncing predecessor George W. Bush's expansive use of executive power in his "war on terrorism," is being attacked in some quarters for using similar tactics. They include secret legal justifications and undisclosed intelligence assessments.

Liberals criticized the drone attack on an American citizen as extra-judicial murder.

Conservatives criticized Obama for refusing to release a Justice Department legal opinion that reportedly justified killing Awlaki. They accuse Obama of hypocrisy, noting his administration insisted on publishing Bush-era administration legal memos justifying the use of interrogation techniques many equate with torture, but refused to make public its rationale for killing a citizen without due process.

Some details about how the administration went about targeting Awlaki emerged on Tuesday when the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, was asked by reporters about the killing.

The process involves "going through the National Security Council, then it eventually goes to the president, but the National Security Council does the investigation, they have lawyers, they review, they look at the situation, you have input from the military, and also, we make sure that we follow international law," Ruppersberger said.


They said targeting recommendations are drawn up by a committee of mid-level National Security Council and agency officials. Their recommendations are then sent to the panel of NSC "principals," meaning Cabinet secretaries and intelligence unit chiefs, for approval. The panel of principals could have different memberships when considering different operational issues, they said.


See also the September 2016 article When The U.S. Military Strikes, White House Points To A 2001 Measure which explains that the language:

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons

is interpreted very broadly by the president:

Today, a decade and a half later, the Obama administration argues that the authorization continues to apply to U.S. military actions in Afghanistan. Also, that it applies in Iraq, in Syria, and beyond — including the ongoing air campaign in Libya, against ISIS — a group that did not exist 15 years ago.

See also A New Authorization for Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State: Issues and Current Proposals which says:

The President in his August 2014 notifications to Congress of deployments and airstrikes in Iraq indicated his powers as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive under Article II of the Constitution gave him authority to undertake such action. Obama Administration officials and the President’s September 2014 notifications4 to Congress for airstrikes and other actions in Iraq and Syria, however, stated that two enacted authorizations for use of military force (AUMFs), the Authorization for Use of Military Force (2001 AUMF; P.L. 107-40), and the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (2002 AUMF; P.L. 107-243), provide authorization for certain U.S. military strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as well as the Khorasan Group of Al Qaeda in Syria.

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    Does any of that mean that Americans can be killed in America though? That seems an important point here? (Because that's what the legal in "legal killings" in the OP's source seems to imply)
    – sgf
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 1:39
  • @sgf this is the legal analysis that the Obama administration made concerning killing an American citizen washingtonpost.com/r/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2014/06/23/…
    – DavePhD
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 1:57
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    My point was just that the text the OP cites doesn't state any of the limitations on the "secret, legal and targeted killings" that seem to exist (and are, I believe, made clear in the legal analysis): Killings are not legal just because the NSC considers them so; some killings, which the NSC may authorise, are considered legal - if the target is part of an armed force, a combattant against the US, and so on. (If I get that right; I am neither a lawyer nor an American.) So I'm not sure the NSC has "the ability to authorize assassinations as described in this post".
    – sgf
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 10:37
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    @sgf The NSC advises the president. The NSC tells the president whether or not the person should be killed, including whether or not it is legal to kill the particular person. Like you are saying, the person must have become an enemy combatant for the killing to be legal.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 13:27
  • Who decides/determines who is an enemy combatant and based on what evidence?
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 15:20

From the national archives re all intelligence agencies, including the National Security Council: https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/codification/executive-order/12333.html

which includes:

2.11 Prohibition on Assassination. No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.

2.12Indirect Participation. No agency of the Intelligence Community shall participate in or request any person to undertake activities forbidden by this Order.

  • True, this code exists, but the CIA has definitely coordinated assassinations in the past, so what does this effectively do?
    – Kevin
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 22:48

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