Obama releases secret drone memo to Senate Intel Committee

posted at 9:21 am on February 7, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Stung by the outcry across the political spectrum from a leaked memo on drone-targeting decisions, Barack Obama has begun to play defense where it counts.  Late last night, the White House agreed to release the memo governing the use of drones to kill American citizens abroad suspected of terrorist activities.   The move is designed to head off tough questioning of John Brennan in his confirmation hearing as he prepares to become the next CIA Director:

President Obama yielded Wednesday to congressional demands that he provide access to a secret legal memo on the targeted killing of American terrorism suspects overseas, avoiding a confrontation that threatened the confirmation of John O. Brennan as his new CIA director.

Obama directed the Justice Department to hand over the document to the Senate Intelligence Committee “as part of the president’s ongoing committment [sic] to consult with Congress on national security matters,” an administration official said.

Senate Democrats and Republicans, including several on the intelligence committee, had threatened to delay, if not derail, Brennan’s confirmation in a Thursday hearing. …

The memos, written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, provided the administration’s legal basis for a 2011 CIA drone attack in Yemen that killed U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Obama described Awlaki as the chief of “external operations” for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the al-Qaeda affiliate held responsible for several unsuccessful attacks on the United States.

The administration had described the memo as an internal “work product” that does not have to be shared with Congress. Lawmakers accused the administration of a lack of transparency and likened its handling of the issue to the refusal of the George W. Bush administration to provide access to legal memos justifying the use of harsh interrogation methods against terrorism suspects.

But …

Obama publicly released those memos shortly after taking office in 2009.

I doubt that more than a few would have argued with the designation of Awlaki as an enemy combatant, but that’s not the concern, nor is Awlaki’s 16-year-old cousin, who was killed by the same strike that got the elder Awlaki.  Nor is the concern, as some have suggested, that we have to ensure that no American citizens are on a battlefield before we launch a military attack, as some have absurdly suggested with references to World War II.  The issue is the deliberate targeting of American citizens for discrete assassinations conducted largely by the CIA, not military operations against known al-Qaeda assets abroad.

There may be certain cases where that is necessary; Awlaki was a good example of an arguably necessary case. But the process for the deliberate targeting of US citizens on the basis of terrorism should have some checks and balances, and the memo released this week has none at all.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will have an opportunity to ask John Brennan about this and more in today’s confirmation hearing.  Brennan will no doubt be much better prepared for tough cross-examination than Chuck Hagel was last week, but he’s not facing as sympathetic a panel as Hagel did, either.  The skepticism over the drone program is now bipartisan, and Brennan is the first key Obama administration official to face Congress over it.  Don’t expect an easy ride this time, not even from the Democrats.

Josh Gerstein lists five questions Brennan will almost certainly have to answer.  The first of them should be a big barometer of Brennan’s support:

1. How does he answer the “torture” concerns?

This issue sank Brennan’s chances of heading up CIA four years ago, when Obama considered naming him but backed away after an outcry from liberal activists seeking a clean break with the war-on-terror tactics used by the Bush administration. Brennan was a top official at the CIA when the go-ahead was given for the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding.

Obama appears to have decided that concern about the torture issue has simmered down to the point that it won’t be a major roadblock to getting Brennan to the director’s office at the CIA.

That may have been true … before the release of the drone memo this week.  It may no longer be true, and it might be Obama’s own Democrats who sink Brennan’s appointment.


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Hopefully, this can be a start to his downfall.

tomas on February 7, 2013 at 9:23 AM

“nor is Awlaki’s 16-year-old cousin,”

Why is that?

Zaggs on February 7, 2013 at 9:24 AM

So I imagine the docs on Fast N Furious are right behind…/

hillsoftx on February 7, 2013 at 9:25 AM

Obama directed the Justice Department to hand over the document to the Senate Intelligence Committee “as part of the president’s ongoing committment [sic] to consult with insult Congress on national security matters,” an administration official said.

Fixed

Liam on February 7, 2013 at 9:26 AM

“Yes Mr Brennan, could you describe for the committee what you believe is more torturous–repeated sprinklings of water on the forehead or a drone missile drilling you in the spine?”…..

Where is the outrage MSM??

hillsoftx on February 7, 2013 at 9:28 AM

and it might be Obama’s own Democrats who sink Brennan’s appointment.

Pass that choom because it seems like high quality stuff.

Bark could nominate the Blind Sheik as Director of Homeland Security and the demorats would trip over their own 7-toed feet rushing to affirm him.

Bishop on February 7, 2013 at 9:29 AM

Mr Brennan could you explain why under President Bush it was torture but now it isn’t?

D-fusit on February 7, 2013 at 9:32 AM

Remember GOP, the American people voted for Gridlock to continue. You would be wise to understand this statement!

jjnco73 on February 7, 2013 at 9:33 AM

Remember the outrage on the left when they saw those prisoners with panties on their heads at Abu Guraib? How dare the Bush administration use this highly offensive treatment on captured terrorists. (Yeah, they blamed him.)

Fast Forward to today and nobody on the left, in politics or the media, has a single complaint about Obama personally deciding who we should assassinate using drones.

Talk about hypocrisy.

fogw on February 7, 2013 at 9:34 AM

I really don’t care about the drones. I’m more concerned with the national security secrets that Barky and his junta have advertised to the world and with the way the Indonesian has aided and abetted the terrorists by going after CIA interrogators, making a mockery of our Constitution by Mirandizing Afghan terrorists in Afghanistan, doing serious harm to our war effort by intentionally stalling on the strategic decisions in Afghanistan, un-Constitutionally used the military as his personal playtoy to go to war in Libya on France’s say-so, and the hundred other treasonous and criminal acts that Barky and his junta have committed, not to mention the umpteen ways he and the left have gone out of their way to stand in the way of America defending ourselves for the past so many years.

Drone strikes are one little facet (which I have no problem with) of a losing strategy that Barky and his band of idiots have committed America to in this War on Terror. He won’t do jack about Iranian nukes and puts roadblocks up in front of Israel doing anything, which is far more important than picking off a few muzzie nutcases here and there.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on February 7, 2013 at 9:35 AM

Dems will defend dear leaders choice no matter what

cmsinaz on February 7, 2013 at 9:42 AM

+1 Bishop

cmsinaz on February 7, 2013 at 9:43 AM

Obama appears to have decided that concern about the torture issue has simmered down to the point that it won’t be a major roadblock to getting Brennan to the director’s office at the CIA.

And then along came the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” which put “enhanced interrogation” into the spotlight again.

Wethal on February 7, 2013 at 9:45 AM

Late last night, the White House agreed to release the memo governing the use of drones to kill American citizens abroad suspected of terrorist activities.

…how heavily will it be edited?

KOOLAID2 on February 7, 2013 at 9:46 AM

In case the MSM hasn’t figured it out, it’s not ‘consulting with Congress’ by releasing the memo long after the policy has been implemented. I personally don’t mind how we kill members of AQ in what is a war zone, but I resent the media again trying to hail their precious Obama for being a johnny-come-lately. I’m not sure Bush would have what Obama has, but if he did the likes of Chris Matthews would still be spraying about it.

Liam on February 7, 2013 at 9:47 AM

Where is the outrage MSM??

hillsoftx on February 7, 2013 at 9:28 AM

You say that as if the MSM is independent. Jay Carney actually told them yesterday that it was appropriate for them to ask questions about the administration’s drone policy. An independent press would have decided for itself what questions were appropriate and not have the terms of questioning permitted to be dictated by the White House.

Happy Nomad on February 7, 2013 at 9:48 AM

Part of the problem is that Obama refuses to be clear on whether we are indeed engaged in a war against terroristic threats. He will not name the enemy to our national security, and he refuses to use the term terrorism with regard to clear threats to our national interests.

onlineanalyst on February 7, 2013 at 9:50 AM

…how heavily will it be edited?

KOOLAID2 on February 7, 2013 at 9:46 AM

And why is every scrap of paper in the DoJ from running guns for Mexican drug cartels covered by executive privilege and, yet, Obama choosing what Americans should die isn’t?

It is so offensive that the rat-eared wonder sits on his throne like a modern day Caligula unilaterally deciding who to kill. But the filthy bastard has to understand the slippery slope here. He starts killing people arbitrarily, there isn’t anything out there to say that our enemies will be out there with drones taking out Americans (including ambassadors) with just as much arbitrary spite as is apparently going on in the Oval Office.

Happy Nomad on February 7, 2013 at 9:53 AM

+1 fogw

cmsinaz on February 7, 2013 at 9:53 AM

Bark could nominate the Blind Sheik as Director of Homeland Security and the demorats would trip over their own 7-toed feet rushing to affirm him.

Bishop on February 7, 2013 at 9:29 AM

Bishop:Exactly so,……sickening!:)

canopfor on February 7, 2013 at 9:55 AM

ThePrimordialOrderedPair: Allow me to reprise this article, for Brennan should be able to identify where these pre-election national security leaks came from:
Let’s have some serious vetting of Brennan. The leaking of national security items to the media in order to support O’s candidacy is highly suspect.

Brennan needs to be questioned hard on ten, make that eleven, Obamaleaks to the media prior to the election.
http://www.aei-ideas.org/2013/02/the-top-ten-obamaleaks-john-brennan-needs-to-explain/

onlineanalyst on February 7, 2013 at 9:55 AM

our enemies will be out there with drones taking out Americans (including ambassadors) with just as much arbitrary spite as is apparently going on in the Oval Office.

Happy Nomad on February 7, 2013 at 9:53 AM

Very possible. I never thought any of those drones that keep crashing inside Iran were accidents.

Liam on February 7, 2013 at 10:00 AM

The issue is the deliberate targeting of American citizens for discrete assassinations

Period.

If he’s an American citizen, and he hasn’t renounced his citizenship, and he’s not on the battlefield, then he has Constitutional rights. Kidnap him if you have to. Bring ‘em in, try ‘em and fry ‘em. But don’t go assassinating them based on Obama’s whim.

I thought there was a US and/or international law against assassinating foreign targets. Was that repealed at some point? It would be ironic if this administration considered it illegal to assassinate Hockmydinnerjacket in Iran, but perfectly legal to violate the Constitution and kill Americans without due process.

The Rogue Tomato on February 7, 2013 at 10:07 AM

Brennan needs to be questioned hard on ten, make that eleven, Obamaleaks to the media prior to the election.
http://www.aei-ideas.org/2013/02/the-top-ten-obamaleaks-john-brennan-needs-to-explain/

onlineanalyst on February 7, 2013 at 9:55 AM

Yep.

And, interestingly (on a total side note) Brennan was running the firm whose employee had “peeked” at Barky’s passport records (whatever that means and whatever it might have involved) at State back during the 2007 primary. Nothing ever came from that and it was all but forgotten, while Brennan was able to get umpteen security clearances to the highest level in the wake of it.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on February 7, 2013 at 10:12 AM

Live video: Defense Secretary Panetta and Joint Chiefs chair Dempsey testify on Benghazi US Embassy attack – @NBCNews

3canopfor on February 7, 2013 at 10:10 AM

Four Americans were killed. What difference does that make at this point.

Happy Nomad on February 7, 2013 at 10:15 AM

The Rogue Tomato on February 7, 2013 at 10:07 AM

The Constitution doesn’t apply outside of sovereign American territory. You leave America at your own risk. That’s why it’s so important that American citizens enjoy great advantages on American territory over aliens – any aliens. This is why the coddling and aiding and abetting of illegals on our soil is such an awful crime against the nation and the citizenry.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on February 7, 2013 at 10:15 AM

If he’s an American citizen, and he hasn’t renounced his citizenship, and he’s not on the battlefield, then he has Constitutional rights. Kidnap him if you have to. Bring ‘em in, try ‘em and fry ‘em. But don’t go assassinating them based on Obama’s whim.

The Rogue Tomato on February 7, 2013 at 10:07 AM

You say that as if the administration isn’t going to be launching drone attacks on American soil against Americans. It is a slippery slope once you decide that a single thin-skinned rat-eared dictator has the power and right to ignore the law and can arbitrarily rule on who should live and die like a modern-day Caligula. I honestly never thought we’d see the day where Americans have to be in fear of their own government but we are close to the point where one might hear the drone of a small engine overhead for posting a comment not particularly flattering about the President or his broad-beamed grifter wife.

Happy Nomad on February 7, 2013 at 10:27 AM

3canopfor on February 7, 2013 at 10:10 AM

Four Americans were killed. What difference does that make at this point.

Happy Nomad on February 7, 2013 at 10:15 AM

Happy Nomad:Hillary is that YOU…….(Snark)!:)

canopfor on February 7, 2013 at 10:35 AM

Sins of the Father: How Team Obama Justifies the Killing of a 16-Year-Old American

[Abdulrahman al-Awlaki] was the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, who was also born in America, who was also an American citizen, and who was killed by drone two weeks before his son was, along with another American citizen named Samir Khan. Of course, both Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were, at the very least, traitors to their country — they had both gone to Yemen and taken up with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al-Awlaki had proven himself an expert inciter of those with murderous designs against America and Americans: the rare man of words who could be said to have a body count. When he was killed, on September 30, 2011, President Obama made a speech about it; a few months later, when the Obama administraton’s public-relations campaign about its embrace of what has come to be called “targeted killing” reached its climax in a front-page story in the New York Times that presented the President of the United States as the last word in deciding who lives and who dies, he was quoted as saying that the decision to put Anwar al-Awlaki on the kill list — and then to kill him — was “an easy one.”

But Abdulrahman al-Awlaki wasn’t on an American kill list.

Nor was he a member of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninusla.

Nor was he “an inspiration,” as his father styled himself, for those determined to draw American blood.

Nor had he gone “operational,” as American authorities said his father had, in drawing up plots against Americans and American interests.

He was a boy who hadn’t seen his father in two years, since his father had gone into hiding.

He was a boy, who knew his father was on an American kill list and who snuck out of his family’s home in the early morning hours of 4 September 2011, to try to find him.

He was a boy who was still searching for his father when his father was killed, and who, on the night he himself was killed, was saying goodbye to the second cousin with whom he’d lived while on his search, and the friends he’d made.

He was a boy among boys, then; a boy among boys eating dinner by an open fire along the side of a road when an American drone came out of the sky and fired the missiles that killed them all.

How does Team Obama justify killing him?

The answer Robert Gibbs gave is chilling:

ADAMSON: …It’s an American citizen that is being targeted without due process, without trial. And, he’s underage. He’s a minor.

GIBBS: I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children. I don’t think becoming an al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.

Again, note that this kid wasn’t killed in the same drone strike as his father. He was hit by a drone strike elsewhere, and by the time he was killed, his father had already been dead for two weeks. Gibbs nevertheless defends the strike, not by arguing that the kid was a threat, or that killing him was an accident, but by saying that his late father irresponsibly joined al Qaeda terrorists.

Killing an American citizen without due process on that logic ought to be grounds for impeachment. Is that the real answer? Or would the Obama Administration like to clarify its reasoning? Any Congress that respected its oversight responsibilities would get to the bottom of this.

Keep in mind, too that it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL in the United States to execute a minor or a defendant sentenced for a crime committed as a minor. See: United States, Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005).

Furthermore, in May 2012, the New York Times, inadvertently, told us that President Barack Obama, PERSONALLY, ordered the execution of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki:

This was the enemy, served up in the latest chart from the intelligence agencies: 15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years…

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

Seven months before the NYT’s article, President Obama murdered a 16 year-old boy that was NOT a “top official” in al-Qaeda; was NOT a member of the group, was NOT an “inspiration,” had NOT gone “operational,” and had NOT been accused of any crimes whatsoever.

He was a 16 year-old boy from Denver, who had left to find his father, Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader in AQ. He was not “collateral damage.” There was NO evidence of any crime committed – or even allegations of same – by Abdulrahman He was “targeted.” He was denied due process. His death was premeditated and ordered by the President of the United States, a country where executing minors for FIRST-DEGREE MURDER or individuals, who committed first-degree murder as a minor, is ILLEGAL.

He wasn’t waterboarded. He was droned… in a country with which the United States is not at war.

He was sentenced to death because of the sins of his father.

Resist We Much on February 7, 2013 at 10:54 AM

I agree with what Ms. Tantaros said the other day on THE FIVE and that is that the “memo” “just released” is bogus…meaning, Obama had to devise some sort of “prearranged permission” for his drone behaviors so out comes this Unicorn Memo.

Lourdes on February 7, 2013 at 11:07 AM

…He was a 16 year-old boy from Denver, who had left to find his father, Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader in AQ. He was not “collateral damage.” There was NO evidence of any crime committed – or even allegations of same – by Abdulrahman He was “targeted.” He was denied due process. His death was premeditated and ordered by the President of the United States, a country where executing minors for FIRST-DEGREE MURDER or individuals, who committed first-degree murder as a minor, is ILLEGAL.

He wasn’t waterboarded. He was droned… in a country with which the United States is not at war.

He was sentenced to death because of the sins of his father.

Resist We Much on February 7, 2013 at 10:54 AM

And, thus, Obama produces his Invisibly Gay Memo.

Lourdes on February 7, 2013 at 11:09 AM

I doubt that more than a few would have argued with the designation of Awlaki as an enemy combatant, but that’s not the concern, nor is Awlaki’s 16-year-old cousin, who was killed by the same strike that got the elder Awlaki.

Why, exactly, are these not concerns, Ed? Why do you feel it appropriate to gloss over them?

If an American citizen is actively on the battlefield in a declared war, that is one thing. But American citizens do not give up their Constitutionally protect rights even when they claim allegiance to an organization that has attacked us. The people in question were not on the battlefield or engaged in active combat. They were targeted because they allegedly posed a potential threat to the United States. That is unacceptable, illegal, and unconstitutional.

While your other points are true, do not gloss over these cases that have actually happened. They are just as important.

Shump on February 7, 2013 at 11:12 AM

Yet another troll-free thread. Too funny.

Del Dolemonte on February 7, 2013 at 11:18 AM

I’d like to hear Brennan answer questions about what “work product” was obtained when his security company illegally gained access to the passport records for H. Clinton, J. McCain, and B. (Soetoro) Obama back in ’08.

Stu Gotts on February 7, 2013 at 11:25 AM

Bark could nominate the Blind Sheik as Director of Homeland Security and the demorats would trip over their own 7-toed feet rushing to affirm him.

Bishop on February 7, 2013 at 9:29 AM

Bishop:Exactly so,……sickening!:)

canopfor on February 7, 2013 at 9:55 AM

You people make me sick. Throwing out baseless accusations like this.

For all you know they have 6 or 9 toes. And what if they did? Do we really need to mock the differently toed?

Lily on February 7, 2013 at 11:46 AM

Leftists are still busy planning their unhinged Leftist rent-a-mob rally against Obama’s April 2009 summary execution of three (un-Mirandized!) Somali teens at sea.

Afterall, those targeted killings were clearly more “violent” than Bush’s patriotic moistening of KSM, et.al.

The 4-year(!) anniversary of Obama’s high seas shooting spree is this April. Get busy, progressives.

Rage against the Obamachine!

Terp Mole on February 7, 2013 at 11:51 AM

Rich Lowry had a great piece yesterday on this story. He calls it “Dick Cheney’s Revenge”:

Will the author of the Obama administration white paper on killing U.S. citizens please report for his war crimes trial right away?

If he served in the George W. Bush administration, someone would already be agitating for his extraordinary rendition to The Hague.

-snip-

The left is still furious that the Bush administration waterboarded three captured terrorists in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Yet, with a few exceptions, it has blithely accepted the Obama administration’s extrajudicial assassination policy that has killed about 1,000 times as many people.

-snip-

Democratic partisans might be confused.They considered Bush a threat to America’s liberty because of his defense of his war powers, yet their hero stands on similar ground. How to resolve the contradiction? Easy. Conclude that they were wrong the first time.

“Conclude that they were wrong the first time”? They would rather be waterboarded themselves!

As evidenced by some of the angry Dear Leader Cultists responding to Lowry’s piece:

Lowry’s reasoning is predictably asinine.

There’s no inconsistency here: Obama’s actions were and are legal. Cheney’s actions were illegal. Why is Lowry so soft on crime, and willing to excuse law breaking and torture?

-Neither did the Taliban of Afghanistan or Hussein of Iraq actually attack America on 911 or have WMD

Bush lied–Cheney created it–Condoleeza Rice supported it–Rumsfeld loved it—they knew it was lies and deception.

Minds are terrible things to waste. Too bad these folks don’t have any to waste!

Del Dolemonte on February 7, 2013 at 12:11 PM

So….interrogating TERRORISTS, as Bush supported, according to Obama was/is ‘bad’< he did not/does not support it. NOW, however, Obama not only supports the killing of Americans abroad via Drone strikes but has already carried out such strikes?!

Sorta like Obama calling Bush 'Un-Patriotic' for adding $4 Trillion in new debt to the U.S. budget over 8 (EIGHT) YEARS…but he PROMOTES & DEFENDS his own adding of $6 Trillion in only 4 (FOUR) YEARS…

It is amazing, Obama even ADMITTED to the American people in a Time Magazine interview that he intentionally LIES, defending it by saying, 'It's just politics – everyone does it' – BEFORE the election, and moronic Americans still voted for the man! What a hypocritical, lying sack of Progressive Poo…& people who votd for him deserve what they get!

easyt65 on February 7, 2013 at 12:15 PM