Obama to Let Congress See Drone Memo

[Content Note: Drones; war; violence.]

A modicum of transparency:
The White House on Wednesday directed the Justice Department to release to the two Congressional Intelligence Committees classified documents discussing the legal justification for killing, by drone strikes and other means, American citizens abroad who are considered terrorists.

The White House announcement appears to refer to a long, detailed 2010 memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel justifying the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who had joined Al Qaeda in Yemen. He was killed in a C.I.A. drone strike in September 2011. Members of Congress have long demanded access to the legal memorandum.

The decision to release the legal memo to the Intelligence Committees came under pressure, two days after a bipartisan group of 11 senators joined a growing chorus asking for more information about the legal justification for targeted killings, especially of Americans.

..."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," said an administration official who requested anonymity to discuss the handling of classified material.

The official said members of the Intelligence Committees would now get "access" to the documents.

Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the president's move "a small step in the right direction." But he noted that the legal memo or memos were not being shared with the Armed Services Committees, which have jurisdiction over Pentagon strikes, or the Judiciary Committees, which oversee the Justice Department. It was not clear whether the release involved more than one memo.

The public should be permitted to see at least a redacted version of the relevant material, Mr. Anders said. "Everyone has a right to know when the government believes it can kill Americans and others," he said.
Yes. The argument against disclosing guidelines for drone strikes (and/or other types of defense strategies in the war on terror) has always been that publicly disclosing our strategies is a national security concern because it puts the country at risk if "the terrorists" are aware of our defense strategies. I'm not at all convinced that's true, but, even if it were, our representative government acting in secrecy without oversight or accountability puts the country at risk in other ways.

Our system of government and our culture of democracy is dependent on transparency, on oversight, on accountability. These are not small things. How we value and prioritize them fundamentally defines what type of nation we are.

In the linked New York Times article, anonymous administration officials describe President Obama's decision to grant Congressional access to these classified documents as "extraordinary." That's true. But it's nothing to celebrate. It shouldn't be extraordinary in the first place.

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