Obama Said Ready to Release Secret Memo on Drone Strikes

President Barack Obama’s administration will make public a secret legal memo it has used to justify drone strikes against U.S. citizens overseas who are suspected terrorists, an administration official said.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has agreed not to appeal a court ruling that required disclosure of the memo, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Redactions will be made before the release, which will take time, the official said.

Administration disclosure of its decision to release the memo was made a day before a vote scheduled today in the U.S. Senate on advancing the nomination of its author to become a federal judge. Former Justice Department official David Barron was nominated by Obama for the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

Lawmakers led by Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky have been demanding the release of the legal advice written by Barron justifying the use of lethal force against U.S. citizens during counterterrorism operations.

The controversy arose with the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. The U.S. said al-Awlaki was a key leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Awlaki’s teenage son was killed in a separate drone strike, in which he wasn’t a target, two weeks after his father died.

In an opinion article published yesterday in the Boston Herald, Paul wrote that he didn’t argue with the notion that al-Awlaki deserved to die.

Deciding Punishment

“I don’t necessarily disagree with his punishment,” Paul wrote. “I disagree with how the punishment was decided. American citizens not on a battlefield must be convicted before they are sentenced to death.”

Paul said he would oppose Barron’s nomination because of his memos justifying such strikes.

The American Civil Liberties Union, while not taking a position on Barron, urged all senators to read Barron’s policy paper before voting.

“The release of this memo will allow the public to better understand the scope of the authority that the government is claiming,” said ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who argued the lawsuit seeking release of the targeted killings papers before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. “We will continue to argue in court for the public release of the other targeted killing memos and related documents.”

“In order to make a fair assessment about the drone program, the American people need to know who is being killed in our name,” Daphne Eviatar of advocacy group Human Rights First said in a statement.

Holder accepted the recommendation of U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. not to appeal the case, said the administration official, who wasn’t authorized to make a statement.

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