The White House announced Tuesday that US senators will be allowed to review the legal justification for the 2011 drone strike that killed an American in Yemen, an apparent effort to ease a nomination process for the previously-secret document's author.
The Obama administration has nominated David Barron, a Harvard law professor, for a seat on the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals. He previously worked as an acting assistant attorney general of the US Justice Department when the administration authorized the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Al-Qaeda leader.
Human rights activists, legal scholars, and some US lawmakers have condemned the drone strike as an extrajudicial assassination of an American without a court trial. Civil liberties groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have lobbied senators to block Barron’s judicial confirmation until all officials are able to carefully examine his memo, which has been cited by US President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and others who have deemed the Awlaki killing justified.
Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, is also trying to block Barron’s confirmation unless the administration makes a redacted version of the memo public. Paul previously delayed the nomination of Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan until the administration agreed to disclose more information about the drone program.
“I can confirm that the Administration is working to ensure that any remaining questions members of the Senate have about Barron’s legal work at the Department of Justice are addressed, including making available in a classified setting of a copy of the al-Awlaki opinion to any senator who wishes to review it prior to Barron’s confirmation vote,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement to The Hill.
Chris Anders, a senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, told the Associated Press Barron signed no fewer than two memos that were essential to the drone program and that both should be turned over.
“This is short-changing senators who should be getting information that they need to review before voting on a lifetime appointment,” he said.
The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City decided last month that the Obama administration must make the redacted version of the memo public, although the AP reported that the administration has yet to decide if it will appeal the ruling.
Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado) said he will not vote to confirm Barron unless the White House goes along with the court ruling.
“David Barron is highly qualified, but as one of the authors of the Anwar al-Awlaki opinion, Barron’s nomination understandably raises key questions about the administration’s legal justification for the targeted killing of Americans and about its year-old pledge of greater transparency,” Udall said in a statement.
The White House said it will defer to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) to schedule the confirmation vote.