Drone on: The Commander in Chief Power to Target and Kill Americans

20 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2015

Date Written: 2015


The President of the United States, in his capacity as Commander in Chief in time of legally authorized war, possesses the constitutional power to target and kill specific individuals that he determines to be active enemy combatants engaged in lawful or unlawful hostilities against the United States. In targeting and killings such combatants, the President may use any and all appropriate weapons technologies available to him -- including drone technology.

Such enemy combatants might sometimes be, unfortunately, United States citizens. The constitutional power of the President to target and kill such citizen enemy combatants is no different from the power to target and kill enemy combatants generally.

This article examines this core proposition in the context of the paradigmatic case of the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen and al Qaeda operational commander, by drone attack in Yemen in 2011.

Keywords: war powers, presidential power, enemy combatants, commander in chief, drone warfare, drones

Suggested Citation

Paulsen, Michael Stokes, Drone on: The Commander in Chief Power to Target and Kill Americans (2015). 38 Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 43 (2015), U of St. Thomas (Minnesota) Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-1, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2564862

Michael Stokes Paulsen (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States
651-962-4831 (Phone)

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