The White House is offering to show senators a secret paper justifying the drone strike on an American citizen written by David Barron, one of President Obama's judicial nominees. (Michael Dwyer / AP)
WASHINGTON — The White House said Tuesday it will show senators secret memos by one of President Obama’s appellate court nominees justifying the drone strike in 2011 on U.S.-born al-Qaida operative Anwar al-Awlaki.
The administration announced the decision to release the classified documents to lawmakers one day after the American Civil Liberties Union urged senators to read the Justice Department legal opinions before voting on the nomination of David Barron for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit.
Barron served as the acting assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department as government officials debated the legality of drone strikes against Americans and may have written or signed two legal opinions authorizing the killing of a U.S. citizen.
The White House released the documents last year to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has approved Barron’s nomination. Barron awaits a vote from the full Senate.
“We defer to (Senate Majority) Leader (Harry) Reid on timing on votes of judicial nominees,” White House deputy spokesman Eric Schultz said. “I can confirm that the administration is working to ensure that any remaining questions members of the Senate have about Barron’s legal work at the Department of Justice are addressed, including making available in a classified setting a copy of the al-Awlaki opinion to any senator who wishes to review it prior to Barron’s confirmation vote.”
Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed that four U.S. citizens had been killed in counterterrorism drone strikes since 2009.
The radical cleric al-Awlaki, who was the inspiration for several plots against the United States, was the only one specifically targeted in counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida.
Three others — al-Qaida propagandist Samir Khan; al-Awlaki’s son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki; and Jude Kenan Mohammed — were killed during the same time period, but “these individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States,” Holder said in a letter to the Senate last year.
Last month, a federal appeals court ruled that the government must release parts of a memo to the public citing the legal rationale for drone strikes that target Americans. The administration is considering whether to appeal that ruling.