As a component of his policy speech on "new tools to prevent terror" Thursday afternoon, President Obama outlined the steps that would now be required for the government to launch a remote drone strike on a terror suspect. His version involved a lot of words. We made it simpler.

"[W]e will uphold our laws and values and will share as much information as possible with the American people and the Congress," reads an accompanying White House document sent to the media this afternoon, "consistent with our national security needs and the proper functioning of the Executive Branch." The "fact sheet" steps through the criteria: It must be legally justified; the suspect must be a threat. Or, to put it more simply, the decision tree looks like this.

The actual language released by the president:

First, there must be a legal basis for using lethal force, whether it is against a senior operational leader of a terrorist organization or the forces that organization is using or intends to use to conduct terrorist attacks.

Second, the United States will use lethal force only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons. It is simply not the case that all terrorists pose a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons; if a terrorist does not pose such a threat, the United States will not use lethal force.

Third, the following criteria must be met before lethal action may be taken:
  • 1. Near certainty that the terrorist target is present;
  • 2. Near certainty that non-combatants[1] will not be injured or killed;
  • 3. An assessment that capture is not feasible at the time of the operation;
  • 4. An assessment that the relevant governmental authorities in the country where action is contemplated cannot or will not effectively address the threat to U.S. persons; and
  • 5. An assessment that no other reasonable alternatives exist to effectively address the threat to U.S. persons.
Finally, whenever the United States uses force in foreign territories, international legal principles, including respect for sovereignty and the law of armed conflict, impose important constraints on the ability of the United States to act unilaterally – and on the way in which the United States can use force. The United States respects national sovereignty and international law.