WASHINGTON - The United States can target its own citizens with drone strikes if they have recently been involved in violent attacks, a Justice Department memo says. The case made for targeting US citizens in countries such as Yemen is similar to, but goes beyond, the one laid out by Attorney General Eric Holder and other officials. “The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo said.

The undated, 16-page memo, titled “Lawfulness of a lethal operation directed against a US Citizen who is a senior operational leader of Al-Qaeda or an associated force,” was given to members of the Senate and House intelligence committees. It said citizens can be considered imminent threats if they have recently been involved in violence and their views remain unchanged. Such killings would be “a legitimate act of national self-defence that would not violate the assassination ban,” the memo said. Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the memo “a chilling document.” “Basically, it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen,” he added. “It recognizes some limits on the authority it sets out, but the limits are elastic and vaguely defined, and it’s easy to see how they could be manipulated.”