Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and other groups on Monday called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to release a memo that provided legal justification for the killing of American terror suspects overseas.
“By withholding this memo, DOJ seems to be trying to evade the accountability that stems from transparency,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “Insisting that the memo remain secret is all the more surprising given President Obama’s stated commitment to an open government.”
Drones operated by the U.S. reportedly killed al Qaeda operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Kahn last year in Yemen. Both men were U.S. citizens. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, who was born in Colorado, was reportedly killed by a drone strike about two weeks later.
Despite an executive order banning assassinations, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) had issued a legal memorandum justifying the targeted killing of al-Awlaki if it was not feasible to capture him. The Justice Department has so far ignored requests by members of Congress and others to publicly disclose the memo.
“Americans shouldn’t be kept in the dark when the U.S. government authorizes the targeted killing of one of its own citizens on foreign soil,” continued Sloan. “Further, the memo’s existence is about as secret as the drone program or Stuxnet. As with the torture memos, insisting on secrecy is ridiculous and counterproductive.”
In March, Holder defended the use of drone strikes against American terror suspects without specifically mentioning Awlaki, giving some clues as to what might be in the legal memo.
“The principle of necessity requires that the target have definite military value,” he explained. “The principle of distinction requires that only lawful targets – such as combatants, civilians directly participating in hostilities, and military objectives – may be targeted intentionally. Under the principle of proportionality, the anticipated collateral damage must not be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. Finally, the principle of humanity requires us to use weapons that will not inflict unnecessary suffering.”