Obama Administration to Release Drone Memo; #StandWithRand Sees Short Sequel

Sen. Rand Paul, in more filibustery days.Soon, once the Obama administration
has redacted what it sees fit to redact for national security
reasons, we will finally get to see the Department of Justice’s

legal justification for killing American citizens overseas
with
drones without the benefit of any sort of trial. All it took was a
court order and the possibility that the Senate wouldn’t approve an
appellant court nominee due to his role in crafting this memo to
make it happen. Easy!

David Barron, the nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
1st Circuit, faced a possible filibuster or hold this week from
senators wanting to bring about an end to some of the
administration’s secret justifications for drone use. Sen. Rand
Paul (R-Ky.)
warned
he would put a hold on the nomination, but Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says he thinks he has the votes
now to get Barron his judgeship. We will see today. Paul took to
the Senate floor this morning showing he has no interest in
supporting Barron. Bring on “StandwithRand 2: Still About the
Drones.” Actually, no. Though Rand spoke at length this morning,
changes to the filibuster rules (which he also criticized during
his speech) ensured that we didn’t get a repeat of Paul’s 2013
attempt to delay voting on John Brennan’s nomination as director of
the CIA.  

Paul nevertheless did speak at length this morning about his
concerns that Barron and the Obama Administration’s extrajudicial
drone strikes challenge years of jurisprudence that places such a
strong emphasis on the rights of the accused to have a trial. That
Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born al Qaeda leader, was in all
likelihood guilty of plotting harm against his own country, was not
the point: “We’re talking about not even having the protection of a
trial. Are we comfortable killing them based on accusations that no
jury has reviewed?” He pointed to the history of American leaders
treated with honor for defending the accused, such as John Adams
defending the British soldiers accused of the Boston massacre. He
called the use of drones to kill targets “sophisticated
vigilantism.” If you missed his speech (what, you have something
better to do than watch C-Span?), his Twitter account excerpted
choice quotes.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had sued, along with
The New York Times, to get access to the drone strike
memo. The ACLU is hoping the
report will open folks’ eyes
:

“We hope this report signals a broader shift in the
administration’s approach to the official secrecy surrounding its
targeted killing program,” said ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel
Jaffer, who argued the FOIA lawsuit before the Second Circuit Court
of Appeals.

“The release of this memo will allow the public to better
understand the scope of the authority that the government is
claiming. We will continue to argue in court for the public release
of the other targeted killing memos and related documents.”

Given it took both of the other branches of the government to
force the administration to accept some more transparency in
revealing its guidelines for assassinating its own citizens, I am
not expecting a broader shift in the administration’s approach to
secrecy. And even so, if Reid is correct, the Senate stands poised
to approve Barron anyway. Though it is a problem that the memo was
kept classified, the justifications were pretty poorly kept
secrets. We actually know why the administration thinks it can
execute citizens overseas (it did not believe they would be able to
get to al-Awlaki to arrest him and put him on trial). The
concealing of the memo doesn’t resolve the problem that our
president believes he has the power to do this. That’s what really
makes Paul’s comments this morning so important. Revealing the
actual memo is only the first step towards trying to put an end to
this behavior.

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