Authority of CIA to kill widened

By James Risen and David Johnston
New York Times
Dec. 15, 2002

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has prepared a list of about two dozen terrorist leaders that the CIA is authorized to kill if capture is impractical and civilian casualties can be minimized, senior military and intelligence officials said.

The previously undisclosed CIA list of targets includes top leaders of al-Qaida, like Osama bin Laden and his chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and other principal figures from al-Qaida and affiliated terrorist groups, the officials said.

President Bush has provided written legal authority to the CIA to hunt down and kill the terrorists without seeking further approval each time the agency is about to launch an operation.

A spokesman for the White House declined to discuss the list or issues involving the use of lethal force against terrorists. A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment on the list.

Bush has not waived the executive order banning assassinations, officials said. The presidential authority to kill terrorists defines operatives of al-Qaida as enemy combatants and thus legitimate targets for lethal force.

Bush issued a presidential finding after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, providing the basic executive and legal authority for the CIA to either kill or capture terrorist leaders. Initially, the CIA used that authority to search for al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan.

That authority was the basis for the CIA and military effort to kill bin Laden and other Qaida leaders and several Taliban leaders. The newer list represents an expanded CIA effort against a larger number of Qaida operatives outside of Afghanistan.

The president is not legally required to approve each name added to the list, nor is the CIA required to obtain presidential approval for specific attacks.

In November, the CIA killed an al-Qaida leader in Yemen. A pilotless Predator aircraft operated by the CIA fired a Hellfire antitank missile at a car in which Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, also known as Abu Ali, was riding. Harethi and five other people, including one suspected al-Qaida operative with United States citizenship, were killed. Harethi is believed to have been on the list of al-Qaida leaders that the CIA had been authorized to kill. After the Yemen operation, U.S. officials said Bush was not required to approve the mission before the attack, nor was he specifically consulted.

Officials said the presidential finding authorizing the agency to kill terrorists was not limited to those on the list.

Counterterrorism officials prefer to capture senior al-Qaida leaders for interrogation, if possible.

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