"The United States does not view our authority to use military force against al Qaida as being restricted solely to 'hot' battlefields like Afghanistan," John Brennan, President Obama's counter-terrorism adviser, said Friday at a conference on U.S. counter-terrorism and international law at a Harvard Law School.
"Because we are engaged in an armed conflict with al Qaida, the United States takes the legal position that -- in accordance with international law -- we have the authority to take action against al Qaida and its associated forces without doing a separate self-defense analysis each time."
The New York Times reported Brennan's comments come amid a debate, reported in Friday's Times, between State Department and Pentagon lawyers over limits on military force in countries such as Yemen and Somalia.
Brennan said international legal principles, including a country's sovereignty and the laws of war, "impose important constraints on our ability to act unilaterally -- and on the way in which we can use force -- in foreign territories."
During a question-and-answer session, he said the United States would "take action against" members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, and the Somalia-based al-Shabab, both of which seek to attack America.
Brennan also criticized a proposal in Congress that would require terrorism suspects arrested in the United States to be transferred to military custody.
"It is the firm position of the Obama administration" that terrorism suspects arrested inside the United States be prosecuted in the civilian court system, he said.
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