The three Americans known to have been killed, in two drone strikes in Yemen in the fall of 2011, are Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was born in New Mexico; Samir Khan, a naturalized American citizen who had lived in New York and North Carolina, and was killed alongside Mr. Awlaki; and, in a strike two weeks later, Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was born in Colorado.

Most of us think these people were probably terrorists anyway. So the president’s reassurances have been enough to keep criticism at an acceptable level for the White House. Democrats in Congress and in the press have only gingerly questioned the claims by a Democratic president that he is right about the law and careful when he orders drone attacks on our citizens. And Republicans, who favor aggressive national security powers for the executive branch, look forward to the day when one of their own can wield them again. …

So, even though Congress has the absolute power under the Constitution to receive these documents, the Democratic-controlled Senate has not fought this president to get them. If the senators did, and the president held fast to his refusal, they could go to court and demand them, and I believe they would win. Perhaps even better, they could skip getting the legal memos and go right to the meat of the matter — using oversight and perhaps legislating to control the president’s killing powers. That isn’t happening either.