The Obama administration announced Wednesday night that the Justice Department will release classified documents providing more details on the targeted killing of American citizens. The materials will be provided to the intelligence committees in both chambers of Congress, and provide insight into the legal rationale the administration uses to target citizens abroad who are thought to be terrorists.
After the publication of an unclassified Justice Department white paper by NBC News this week, the administration has faced increasing pressure to further explain who decides who can be targeted, and why. The administration said intelligence committee members would now have access to the classified documents:
Today, as part of the president's ongoing commitment to consult with Congress on national security matters, the president directed the Department of Justice to provide the Congressional Intelligence Committees access to classified Office of Legal Counsel advice related to the subject of the Department of Justice white paper.
The document to be released is thought to be a 2010 Justice Department Office of Legal Council memo that justified the targeted killing of American Anwar al-Awlaki, who had joined al Qaeda in Yemen. President Obama has been criticized for his lack of transparency on such killings, and has been pressed by Congress to share more information on the topic. It is not clear if the release will include more than one document, and the American Civil Liberties Union still criticized the fact that the information is not being shared with Armed Services Committees or Judiciary Committees.
While ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Christopher Anders said although the move was "a small step in the right direction," the public should also be privy to the information. "Everyone has a right to know when the government believes it can kill Americans and others," he said.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said Thursday lawmakers must be given "more robust" oversight of such administration policies:
What I'm going to be pressing for today and in the days ahead is declassifying more information about those issues. I think we can do it consistent with national security and that's the next step … We've really been in the dark on these kinds of issues. And by law, we are required to do vigilant oversight.
The announcement comes on the eve of the Senate confirmation hearing of Obama's CIA director nominee, John Brennan, who has defended Obama's targeted killing policies. The hearing Thursday is expected to focus heavily on the administration's drone policy and the legal rationale for targeted killing of Americans.
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