Justice Department Plans to Reveal Legal Justification for Using Drones on American Citizens

Flight deck crew prepare to launch the Navy experimental unmanned aircraft, the X-47B, aboard the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Rosevelt. Flight deck crew prepare to launch the Navy experimental unmanned aircraft, the X-47B, aboard the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Rosevelt. Steve Helber/AP

The Justice Department plans on making public a 2011 memo detailing the legal justification for killing suspected terrorists overseas, even if they are American citizens. The release coincides with the Senate’s vote on the nomination one of the memo’s authors, David Barron, to a federal appeals court judgeship.

The legal argument has been a point of contention for years, especially since the 2011 drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki. Senators said they would fight Barron’s nomination unless they could read the memo, and they were allowed to view copies in a secure room last week, according to The Washington Post. Earlier this year, a federal court ruled that drone strike documents did not have to be disclosed under FOIA requests, but that decision was overturned in late April. The Justice Department has decided not to appeal that ruling.

While Senators were able to view the unredacted memo, its public release could still take some time. Redactions are subject to court approval and officials are also requesting that the classified ruling on the case be redacted for national security reasons, as opposed to legal ones. The only info that the Justice Department wants public is Barron’s legal advice on targeted killings, not the specific intelligence also affiliated with it.

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