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Obama Maneuvers to Keep Kill List Memos Permanently Secret
Inside deal-making looks to truimph over transparency, despite declarations that White House would keep Congress 'fully informed'
Referring to the administration's ongoing targeted assassination program in his State of the Union address recently, President Obama said—despite the statement's glaring inaccuracy—that his executive branch, throughout the development and execution of the "kill list" program, had "kept Congress fully informed of our efforts.”
New reporting by the New York Times on Thursday, however, reveals the effort now underway to keep Congress—not to mention the public—permanently uninformed about the nature and content of several still secret memos used by the president to justify the targeted killing of foreign and US citizens it suspects of terrorist activities.
Leading up to the confirmation hearings for the president's nominee to lead the CIA John Brennan—the chief architect of the 'kill list' and Obama's top counterterrorism adviser—members of Congress, most notably Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), demanded more detailed information about the legal framework used to appropriate such extreme executive authority.
Subsequently, after the controversy mounted during dramatic protests during Brennan's testimony, members of the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee put a hold on the confirmation, demanding more information on the killing program and requesting access to the undisclosed legal memos.
But now, the Times reports:
Rather than agreeing to some Democratic senators’ demands for full access to the classified legal memos on the targeted killing program, Obama administration officials are negotiating with Republicans to provide more information on the lethal attack last year on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, according to three Congressional staff members.
The strategy is intended to produce a bipartisan majority vote for Mr. Brennan in the Senate Intelligence Committee without giving its members seven additional legal opinions on targeted killing sought by senators and while protecting what the White House views as the confidentiality of the Justice Department’s legal advice to the president. It would allow Mr. Brennan’s nomination to go to the Senate floor even if one or two Democrats vote no to protest the refusal to share more legal memos.
Despite ongoign concerns from Sen. Wyden and others, reporting by the Times found broad consensus that Brennan would ultimately be confirmed. Whether that's a political inevitability at this point or not, human rights groups and advocates of international law were not so easily swayed.
“We have this drone war, and the American public has no idea what the rules are, and Congress doesn’t know much more,” said Virginia E. Sloan, president of the Constitution Project told the Times. Obama's assurances in televised speeches or privately given to Congress, she added, “are absolutely no substitute for having the actual memos in hand.”