US lawmakers to view secret drone guidelines
By Stephen Collinson, AFPWASHINGTON -- In a reversal, U.S. President Barack Obama will allow lawmakers access to secret documents outlining the legal justification for drone strikes that kill U.S. citizens abroad who conspire with al-Qaida.
February 8, 2013, 4:21 pm TWN
An administration official disclosed the move Wednesday on the eve of a Senate hearing on Obama's nomination of his top White House anti-terror adviser John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency in his second term.
Some senators had warned they would use Brennan's confirmation as leverage to force the administration to share more information on the legal and constitutional grounds for the U.S. government killing its own citizens.
The disclosure also comes after NBC News published an unclassified Justice Department white paper covering similar ground, reigniting the debate about the killing of estranged Americans who switched sides in the “War on Terror.”
Obama aides insist killing al-Qaida suspects, including occasionally U.S. citizens, in hotspots like Yemen complies with U.S. law and the Constitution, even when no intelligence links the targets to specific attack plots.
“We conduct those strikes because they are necessary to mitigate ongoing actual threats, to stop plots, to prevent future attacks and, again, save American lives,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.
“These strikes are legal, they are ethical and they are wise.”
Among the most controversial of the attacks were the September 2011 killings in Yemen of Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, which stoked concern because the pair were both U.S. citizens who had never been charged with a crime.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has been among the most vocal of lawmakers demanding to know details of how the administration interprets its power to take out U.S. citizens who are waging war against their own nation.
He said lawmakers needed to see the information to ensure that such power was subject to the appropriate safeguards and limitations.
“Every American has the right to know when their government believes that it is allowed to kill them,” Wyden said Tuesday.
“I will continue to press the administration to provide Congress with any and all legal opinions that outline the president's authority to use lethal force against Americans.