A Carter administration attorney general said Thursday he finds it very troublesome that drones have been used to kill terrorist suspects such as U.S.-born extremist Anwar al-Awlaki.
Former Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti made the remark at an American Bar Association conference. He and three other former attorneys general were discussing legal issues surrounding the killing of U.S. citizens in the war on terror.
Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder outlined a three-part test for determining when a targeted killing of a U.S. citizen is legal. Holder says the government must determine, after careful review, that the citizen poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the U.S., that capture is not feasible and that the killing would be consistent with laws of war.
"I find the use of drones, even under the pre-conditions that Attorney General Holder controls, to be very troublesome, and I also think that they are a slippery slope," said Civiletti.
Civiletti called a targeted killing under the conditions laid down by the Obama administration "barely justifiable."
"I hope we're following a substantive procedure" in applying the conditions, he added.
The three other former attorneys general at the event were Alberto Gonzales and Michael Mukasey, both of whom served under President George W. Bush, and Richard Thornburgh, who served under President George H.W. Bush.
Mukasey said such killings are justified. He said that al-Awlaki had an extensive history of inspiring terrorist acts.
Gonzales and Thornburgh pointed to difficult issues surrounding such a decision. Gonzales said he would caution a president that the matter _ after the fact _ could wind up in a battle in the courts. Thornburgh said that, on balance, "you have to lean over backwards to give a maximum amount of flexibility" to those carrying out a mission in wartime.
The four ex-attorneys general were appearing at a conference by the ABA's litigation section.