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White House Authorizes Release of White Paper on Drone Strikes

JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With new questions surrounding the White House policy on targeted drone strikes overseas, President Obama has directed the Justice Department to release a just disclosed 16-page document that apparently justifies the killing of Americans with suspected terrorist connections.

NBC News first obtained the white paper, which is not described as a legal document, in which White House attorneys maintain a drone strike is justified if a “high-level” government official believes the target is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda who poses “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States” and capture is not feasible.

Since the issue of drone strikes against U.S. citizens is expected to be raised when counterterrorism chief John Brennan, Obama’s pick to become the next CIA director, testifies during a Senate hearing on Thursday, the White House turned over the classified policy statement.

The document is entitled, “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qaeda or an Associated Force.”

Speculation is that the paper summarizes the legal justification for the September 2011 drone attack that killed American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.

Al-Awalki was considered a major operative with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which the U.S. says was behind several attempted attacks against American interests, including deploying a bomb-carrying follower on a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day 2009.

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