TIME National Security

Memo Justifying Drone Strikes on Americans to Be Released

A demonstrator holds up a sign protesting the Obama administration's use of drones during May Day demonstrations in New York
A demonstrator holds up a sign protesting the Obama administration's use of drones, in New York, May 1, 2014. Lucas Jackson—Reuters

Reports say the Obama Administration will bow to pressure and release a secret document justifying hits on Americans, including Yemen-based al-Qaeda foreign-ops chief Anwar al-Awlaki

Correction appended, May 22, 2014

The Justice Department will release a classified 2011 memo that provided legal justification for the killing of American terrorist suspects overseas, according to unnamed U.S. officials who spoke to the Washington Post and the Associated Press.

The Obama Administration has been under pressure from both Republicans and Democrats to release the document. The Washington Post reported that a group of Senators said on Tuesday it would fight President Obama’s nomination to a federal-appeals-court judgeship of David J. Barron, one of the memo’s authors, unless the document was released. Barron is a Harvard professor and former Justice Department official.

Drones have killed four U.S. citizens, including Yemen-based Anwar al-Awlaki, described as the foreign-operations chief for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Awlaki’s teenage son, also American, was killed in a separate strike.

(MORE: Inside the Obama Administration’s Fight Over the Drone Memo)

Reporters for New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the memo, which was rejected by a federal court. On April 21, an appeals court overturned that decision. The Administration had until June 5 to object but instead it has reportedly chosen to publicize the memo on the eve of the Senate vote on Barron’s nomination, the Associated Press says.

Lawmakers have apparently been allowed to preview a copy of the memo.

ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer welcomed the release of the document, the Washington Post said. “The public surely has a right to know the breadth of the authority the government is claiming [for a drone strike against Americans] as well as the legal basis for it,” Jaffer said.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated that Anwar al-Awlaki’s son was killed in the same strike as his father. He was killed in a separate attack.

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