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CIA "kill list" panel shrouded in secrecy

The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki
Anwar al-Awlaki CBS News

Somewhere in the bowels of the national security apparatus, a secretive government panel is deciding which Americans can go on the CIA's so-called "kill list," according to a new report.

The "kill list" panel - a subset of the National Security Council made up of senior government officials - exists in a legal no man's land, with no public record of its proceedings and no law justifying or governing its existence, Reuters reports.

The decision to kill Americans abroad without due process has raised many questions in the wake of the drone strike that killed American-born al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

Special section: Terrorism in the U.S.

What legal bases that could be covered in Awlaki's killing appear to have been covered, as it was revealed earlier that the Justice Department had produced a memo giving the assassination its blessing.

However, President Obama himself has been a lightning rod for growing criticism over the program, even though it is still very unclear what exactly his role is in ordering the assassinations and staffing the "kill list" panel. Thus far, White House officials have not commented on how Mr. Obama shapes the program.

"The administration has tried to make very clear that this was an act of self-defense, that Awlaki was part of not only al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, but he was the external operations chief. He was ongoing in his plotting against American citizens - not only having done so in the past, but continuing to do so in an imminent way," said CBS News national security analyst Juan Zarate, in a recent interview.

Reuters reports that all their government sources claim Awlaki is so far the only American to have made it on the "kill list."

Still, one American targeted for assassination is too many Americans for some.

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has been among the most outspoken public figures against extrajudicial government killings. He said allowing the killing of people like Awlaki opens the door to other abuses by the government.

"Can you imagine being put on a list because you're a threat? What's going to happen when they come to the media? What if the media becomes a threat? ... This is the way this works. It's incrementalism. It's slipping and sliding, let me tell you," Paul said, according to the Associated Press.

Samir Khan WBTV

Killed along with Awlaki as "collateral damage," according to government officials, was North Carolina resident turned al Qaeda propagandist Samir Khan. His family said after his death they were upset with the indifference their government has shown them.

In a statement, Khan's estranged family said: "Was this style of execution the only solution? Why couldn't there have been a capture and trial? Where is the justice? As we mourn our son, we must ask these questions."

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