'Targeted Killing' Memo Frames Senate Confirmation Fight

According to the Associated Press, citing two White House officials speaking on condition of anonymity, the Obama administration will submit to a court order which says it must reveal portions of an internal legal memo it used to justify the extrajudicial killing of Americans overseas.

AP reports:

The pending release of the document—which will be first be vetted and redacted by the White House—follows a protracted legal battle between the Obama administration, defended by the Justice Department, against a joint lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the New York Times, both of whom filed Freedom of Information Act requests to see the legal arguments under which lethal force was authorized against Anwar al-Awlaki, an American cleric living in Yemen, who was accused but never tried in a court of law of orchestrating terrorist attacks against targets in the U.S.

As part of what has become known as Obama’s “targeted assassination program,” al-Awlaki and another American, Samir Khan, were both killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Days later, al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was killed in a separate strike in the country.

“We hope this report signals a broader shift in the administration’s approach to the official secrecy surrounding its targeted killing program,” said ACLU’s deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer, who argued the FOIA lawsuit before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in response to the news. “The release of this memo will allow the public to better understand the scope of the authority that the government is claiming.”

However, as it remains unclear the level of redaction and what other associated documents fall outside of the disclosure, Jaffer promised that the ACLU “will continue to argue in court for the public release of the other targeted killing memos and related documents.”

According to AP:


Noting that the White House has only agreed to release the memo in the context of Barron’s contentious nomination to the federal court, independent journalist Kevin Gosztola tweeted:

Also skeptical of the developments, Jesselyn Raddack, a national security expert and human rights lawyer, added:

A procedural vote on Barron’s nomination could take place Wednesday with a final vote as early as Thursday. As policy, the ACLU “does not endorse or oppose any judicial nominee,” but it has urged lawmakers to postpone taking up the vote until all of the legal opinions on targeted killing that he wrote while in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel have been released.

“As important as this step is, we continue to believe that all Senators should have access to all targeted killing memos authored or signed by Mr. Barron,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU senior legislative counsel. “Senators’ access to memos about this unprecedented program is their constitutional role, and reading those memos is their constitutional obligation.”

Writing against Barron’s nomination at Common Dreams last week, author and activist Medea Benjamin argued:

“How can Barron be a judge if he does not understand the deeply valued laws of our land, laws that include habeas corpus and the right to a fair trial?” —Medea Benjamin, human rights activist

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