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Obama Provides Secret Drone Memo To Congress

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First Posted: Feb 07, 2013 11:24 AM EST
Workers prepare an MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle for static display at Michael Army Airfield

Workers prepare an MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle for static display at Michael Army Airfield Credit:Reuters

President Obama is finally allowing Congress to take a look at the legal justifications for the drone program.

On the eve of CIA chief nominee John Brennan's confirmation hearing, the President ordered the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to permit the Senate Intelligence Committee to access the administration's official policy towards extrajudicial killings.

According to the Huffington Post, Obama personally made the decision to grant Congress access to the classified memo, a notable move considering neither he nor his administration has publicly acknowledged its existence.

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"I am pleased that the president has agreed to provide the Intelligence Committee with access to the OLC opinion regarding the use of lethal force in counterterrorism operations," said Senator Dianne Feinstein in a statement. "It is critical for the committee's oversight function to fully understand the legal basis for all intelligence and counterterrorism operations."

There are currently no plans to make the document public. Journalists and civil liberties groups have sued the government in order to force it to release the memo under the Freedom of Information Act, however, and now that it has admitted the document exists their case in the courtroom might be bolstered.

Obama's decision comes as his administration faces increasing pressure from lawmakers to clarify its targeted killing program, and just two days after a confidential "white paper" outlining the legal case for drone strikes against American citizens was leaked by NBC News.

The memo claimed that any "informed, high-level official" within the executive branch could lethally target a U.S. citizen should they suspected of working with al-Qaeda or any "associated force," even without clear evidence of the accusation.

Senator Ron Wyden welcomed the release of the confidential memo, but told MSNBC that he still wants the Senate to oversee the drone policy more closely.

"Every American has the right to know when their government believes it's allowed to kill them," said Wyden. "I don't think that, as one person said, that is too much to ask. And this idea that security and liberty are mutually exclusive is something I reject."

"Without transparency and without accountability we can't strike the right balance between security and liberty," he said.

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