Drone memo might be revealed
WASHINGTON — On the eve of a critical Senate vote and under court order, the Obama administration signaled it will publicly reveal a secret memo describing its legal justification for using drones to kill Americans suspected of terrorism overseas.
Two administration officials said that the Justice Department has decided not to appeal a Court of Appeals ruling requiring disclosure of a redacted version of the memo under the Freedom of Information Act. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
The Senate is to vote on Wednesday on advancing President Obama's nomination of the memo's author, Harvard professor and former Justice Department official David Barron, to sit on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., had vowed to fight Barron's confirmation, and some Democratic senators were calling for the memo's public release before a final vote.
The expected procedural vote would allow the Senate to move ahead with a final vote on Barron on Thursday. “I think we'll be OK,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader born in the United States, was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. Some legal scholars and human rights activists complained that it was illegal for the U.S. to kill American citizens away from the battlefield without a trial.
The White House agreed under the pressure to show senators unredacted copies of all written legal advice written by Barron regarding the potential use of lethal force against citizens in counterterrorism operations.
Until now, the administration has fought in court to keep the writings from public view. But administration officials said that Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. decided this week not to appeal an April 21 ruling requiring disclosure by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York and that Attorney General Eric Holder concurred with his opinion.
The release could take some time, since the redactions are subject to court approval. And the administration is insisting that a classified ruling on the case also be redacted to protect information classified for national security, but not the legal reasoning, one of the officials said.