The Obama administration signalled Tuesday that it will publicly reveal a secret memo describing its legal justification for using drones to kill U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism overseas. The move came on the eve of a critical U.S. Senate vote and under court order.
Two administration officials told The Associated Press 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 decision to release the documents comes as the Senate is to vote Wednesday on advancing President Barack 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. Republican Sen. Rand Paul had vowed to fight Barron's confirmation, and some Democratic senators were calling for the memo's public release before a final vote.
Wednesday's expected procedural vote would allow the Senate to move ahead with a final vote on Barron on Thursday. "I think we'll be OK," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said earlier Tuesday.
Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader born in the United States, was killed after being targeted by 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.
Some senators, including those in Obama's own party, have called for the public release of the memo before the final confirmation vote. 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 U.S. citizens in counterterrorism operations.
The drone strike that killed al-Awlaki also killed another U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, an al-Qaida propagandist. Al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was killed the following month in another drone attack.