White House spokesman Jay Carney found himself Tuesday defending the administration's drone attack policy at length.
"This president takes his responsibilities very seriously," Carney told reporters. "And first and foremost that's his responsibility to protect the United States and American citizens."
Carney answered repeated questions as a Justice Department memo surfaced showing more lenient rules than previously known for drone strikes against U.S. citizens working with alleged terrorists abroad.
Obama "takes his responsibility in conducting the war against al-Qaeda as authorized by Congress in a way that is fully consistent with our Constitution and all the applicable laws," Carney said.
Noting that the government has acknowledged its use of "remotely piloted aircraft to conduct targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists," Carney said the reasons for those attacks are "in order to prevent attacks on the United States and to save American lives. We conduct those strikes because they are necessary to mitigate ongoing actual threats to stop plots, prevent future attacks, and again save American lives."
Carney added: "These strikes are legal. They are ethical and they are wise. The U.S. government takes great care in deciding to pursue an al-Qaeda terrorist to insure precision and to avoid loss of innocent life."
The leak of the memo comes ahead of Thursday's Senate confirmation hearing for John Brennan, the president's nominee for CIA director. As Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, Brennan has helped manage the drone program.
"The government does not need evidence that a specific attack is imminent, the newly disclosed Justice Department white paper says, only that the targeted suspect is involved in ongoing plotting against the United States.
"'The threat posed by al-Qaeda and its associated forces demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat,' the document says. ...
"Controversy over U.S. policy for drone attacks mushroomed after a September 2011 drone strike in Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both U.S. citizens."
David Jackson, USA TODAY
The Associated Press