Wyden forces Obama administration to turn over drone memos

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Our own Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, has been pushing long and hard to get the Obama adminstration to release its legal justifications for targeted killings - the practice of using drones to kill terrorists overseas. In particular, he wants to know the rules with regard to killing American citizens.

And now, it seems, that Wyden has won - as John Brennan goes before the Intelligence Committee for his confirmation hearings as CIA director. From the NY Times:

The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to closely question Mr. Brennan about his role in the drone program during his hearing. Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who sits on the committee, said in a phone interview that he had been working in his office on questions for Mr. Brennan about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday when Mr. Obama called him and said that “effective immediately he was going to make the legal opinions available and he also hoped that there could be a broader conversation.”

Mr. Wyden has repeatedly called on the administration to release its legal memorandums laying out what the executive branch believes it has the power to do in national security matters, including the targeted killing of a citizen. Earlier on Wednesday, at a Democratic retreat in Annapolis, Md., he had hinted at a potential filibuster of Mr. Brennan’s nomination by vowing to “pull out all the stops to get the actual legal analysis, because without it, in effect, the administration is, in effect, practicing secret law.”

Mr. Wyden said that committee members would have immediate access to the material, and that there would be a process for other senators to read it eventually. It was not clear whether lawmakers’ legal aides would also be allowed to read it.

He said the administration’s decision to allow lawmakers “to finally see the legal opinions” was an “encouraging first step, and what I want to see is a bipartisan effort to build on it, particularly right now, when the lines are blurring between intelligence agencies and the military.”

Frankly, I've never understood why the executive branch (both Bush and Obama versions) feel the need to withhold the legal reasoning. Sure, withhold actionable intelligence - sources and methods, as they say. But the legal reasoning? That should be public. Or, at absolute minimum, available to members of the Intelligence oversight committees - who are, after all, cleared for classified material.

Update, 12:40 p.m. In a few moments, Senator Wyden will get his turn to question Brennan in public. Watch the live video stream here.

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