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Wyden Wants Information on Targeting of Anwar al-Awlaki

Sen. Ron Wyden has led a lonely battle against state secrecy. He wanted his findings from the Intelligence Committee on what he perceived as a misuse of the Patriot Act to be made public. And now, he wants a public record on the death of Anwar al-Awlaki.

Five months after Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was targeted in a CIA drone strike, a Democratic senator is lambasting the Obama administration for not providing Congress with the legal basis for the killing of the U.S. citizen.

Sen. Ron Wyden (Oregon), who has repeatedly accused the administration of excessive secrecy in national security matters, wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder in protest on Wednesday, saying it was “unacceptable” that the Justice Department had not been more forthcoming […]

“For the executive branch to claim that intelligence agencies have the authority to knowingly kill American citizens (subject to publicly unspecified limitations) while at the same time refusing to provide Congress with any and all legal opinions that delineate the executive branch’s understanding of this authority represents an indefensible assertion of executive prerogative, and I expected better from the Obama administration,” Wyden wrote in a letter.

The entire letter is here. Wyden acknowledges there could be circumstances to justify the targeting of Awlaki for assassination, which may be conceding too much. But he adds that “when the United States is engaged in a military conflict with a terrorist group, whose members do not wear uniforms but instead attempt to blend in with civilian populations in a variety of countries around the world, questions about when the President may use lethal force against Americans whom he believes are part of this enemy force become significantly more complicated.” And it works better when we have an actual reckoning of this in the public record, instead of the shroud of secrecy that damages trust in government and could easily be put to fairly horrific ends.

The need for public scrutiny, then, far outweighs the need for secrecy in Wyden’s view. I agree. Secret law, which we saw ushered in during the Bush Administration, is really debilitating to governance. We don’t operate on “trust us,” or at least we shouldn’t.

Marcy has more, including the fact that not even Wyden, a Senate Intelligence Committee member, has seen the legal justification for the Awlaki killing.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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