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Congress to Obama: Show Us Your 'License to Kill'

Common Dreams staff

National Security Adviser John Brennan and President Obama (Credit: Pete Souza/The White House)

In 2011, the Obama administration ordered and executed the assassination of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki with an airstrike in Yemen. Weeks later, also in Yemen, al-Alwaki's  sixteen year old son, Abdulrahman, was killed in a strike targeting other suspected Al-Qaeda operatives. 

Nearly a year later, the administration has made public defense of its targeting killing progam, but has denied all requests to present its legal case or show internal memorandums used to justify their legal standing for such actions.

Questioning the legal justifications for the killings, Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, has said "If the government is going to be firing Predator missiles at American citizens, surely the American public has a right to know who’s being targeted, and why."

Now, according to reporting by Mother Jones' Adam Serwer, Congress is considering two measures that "would compel the Obama administration to show members of Congress what Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) calls Obama's 'license to kill': internal memos outlining the legal justification for killing Americans overseas without charge or trial."

Though members of Congress -- following behind civil rights groups and advocates of international law -- have been requesting documentation from the Obama administration for well over a year, Serwer reports that "the new proposals, including one from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) first flagged by blogger Marcy Wheeler and another in a separate intelligence bill, aren't requests—they would mandate disclosure. That shift shows both Republicans and Democrats are growing impatient with the lack of transparency on targeted killings."

Antiwar's John Glaser points out: "There have been at least 10 Congressional requests for the administration to disclose the memo, all of which have been ignored by the President (the administration won’t even publicly admit to its existence). Cornyn’s stands out because it would be a mandate, not a request."

Cornyn's amendment, according to Serwer, "would require the Obama administration to provide the Office of Legal Counsel memo justifying the killing program to legislators on several congressional committees. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee voted to shelve Cornyn's proposal, but that doesn't mean the effort is dead. Cornyn could propose his amendment again later this year, and there's also a section of a separate intelligence bill that would compel the administration to share all of the Justice Department's legal opinions on intelligence matters with the congressional intelligence committees—unless the White House invokes executive privilege."

However, neither Cornyn's proposal nor the intelligence bill, writes Serwer, would require the administration have to share the OLC memo with the media or the public, even in redacted form. 

At least, argues Chris Anders, legislative counsel for the ACLU, releasing the memo to legislators would allow Congress to perform more effective oversight of the targeted killing program.

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