If Ron Wyden Hasn’t Seen Awlaki Memo, There Has Been Inadequate Oversight

As MadDog noted and Ellen Nakashima reported, Ron Wyden is getting cranky that DOJ won’t even show him–a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee–the OLC memo authorizing the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki.

There’s one basic thing the letter makes clear (that Nakashima doesn’t emphasize). Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has still not seen the legal justification for killing Anwar al-Awlaki, four months after Awlaki was killed.

So, as you will remember, I called you in April 2011 and asked you to ensure that the secret Justice Department opinions that apparently outline the official interpretation of this lethal authority were provided to Congress.  The Justice Department provided me with some relevant information in May 2011, and I mistakenly believed that this meant that you had agreed to my request.  Nine months later, however, the Justice Department still has not fully complied with my original request, and it is increasingly clear that it has no intention of doing so.

Simply put, this situation is unacceptable.  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.

So Wyden asked for the legal justification before Awlaki was killed, at a time when he could have exercised oversight over the killing, and got “some relevant information” but not the legal justification he asked for. And DOJ has not given him the legal justification since.

We know the Gang of Four had some kind of review over the killing, because all four made comments after his death in support. But there should be no justification for keeping such information at the Gang of Four level at this point–Awlaki is good and dead, the covert operation to kill him achieved its objective and is not all that covert now that the guy who oversaw the operation has talked about it on TV.

And yet these are the questions that Wyden still has about the killing:

Some of these questions include: ‘how much evidence does the President need to decide that a particular American is part of a terrorist group?’, ‘does the President have to provide individual Americans with an opportunity to surrender before using lethal force against them?’, ‘is the President’s authority to kill Americans based on authorization from Congress or his own authority as Commander-in-Chief?’, ‘can the President order intelligence agencies to kill an American who is inside the United States?’, and ‘what other limitations or boundaries apply to this authority?’.

If even the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have not been permitted to review the Administration’s legal justification for the targeted killing of an American citizen, then the oversight over the op is even more inadequate than we knew. The Administration has really been operating on the principle that it can go off and kill American citizens without even having the elected representatives designated to oversee their actions fully review such killings.

26 replies
  1. rugger9 says:

    It could be that there really isn’t any. As bad as this is a President Palin would have been worse, as would a President Romney.

    The times we live in stink.

  2. matt carmody says:

    @rugger9: Which is exactly the mindset Barry and his cabal wants everyone to have come election day. He isn’t the lesser of two evils. They’re all the same level of evil and, as far as I’m concerned, no evidence has been adduced which validates your assumptions.
    He might be smarter than Palin and poorer than Romney, but he’s neither more morally superior nor less evil than either one of them.

  3. Bob Schacht says:

    @matt carmody: I’m afraid that this kind of purest thinking leads to bad decisions. Unfortunately, the world is not black and white, but full of grays. Good citizenship requires that we make choices between undesirable alternatives. If you opt out, then you will be faced with the consequences.

    Bob in AZ

  4. Steve Bates says:

    @Bob Schacht: With all due respect (and I do have such respect for you; I’ve been reading your comments for years), I am not a purist when I decline to vote again for Mr. Obama this November. I am acting based on a deep commitment to my single highest priority issue, which is civil liberties. Mr. Obama seems determined to subvert and circumvent due process whenever he deems it expedient, and to stymie legitimate attempts at oversight by Congress whenever it is convenient to him. Those are not the acts of a “lesser of two evils”; those are the same kinds of things we all deplored when George W. Bush did them.

  5. SpanishInquisition says:

    @rugger9: Why do you say that? If a Republican President had done what Obama has done, the Democrats would have been protesting until they were hoarse instead of approving and praising. With Obama doing it, there is no opposition party.

    There is no legal justification for this. Awlaki was Constitutionally protected. Awlaki was basically accused of the only crime explicitly covered in the Constitution – treason – and he wasn’t killed accidentally but instead was assassinated, which is an abrogation of his rights.

  6. jerryy says:

    @rugger9: I understand your sentiment, but it is another form of wishful thinking. We do not know what really would happen under these other folks. Maybe they would have a last second ‘conversion to being part of humanity’, perhaps they would quickly mess up, be impeached and removed. We do not know. We do know the tremendous damage done by our current president.

  7. rugger9 says:

    @matt carmody: @SpanishInquisition: #2, #5
    I would agree with you about the mindset of Barry, Inc. regarding the election. Notwithstanding the cave-in, he simply isn’t ever getting the money from the banksters that the R’s are going to get, and he and Rahm [and Timmeh and Ben….] somehow believe they will. I am on record here that the R’s are going to have a hung convention [I did see one analysis that showed Mittens coming in about 140 delegates short, but its waaaay early] because any delegates selected are bound only on the first vote. If one watches the GOP process, they had three elections/caucuses Tuesday that were completely meaningless in terms of delegates. As Charles Pierce puts it, it is a clusterf&^k. With a hung convention, Rove and the Kochs pick out their candidate of choice [my bet is Petraeus, though NJ governor Christie’s getting a lot of air for someone not running or allegedly interested] buy up all of the airtime to wall out the D’s response and oppo research. No one should think the Kochs, Rove, et al., are going to let two POTUS elections be losses for their team.

    As far as sitting on your hands, that’s what happened in 2010 and we have Teabaggers everywhere in Congress and the state legs, along with R fanatic governors in WI, OH, FL who in their first year saw their ratings plummet for cause, and Snott Walker in WI is getting recalled. THEIR base will come out, no question. the reason we won in 2008 is that OUR base came out to vote in such numbers that the GOP couldn’t steal the election as they did in 2000 and 2004. And that’s why I made the point I did about the choices, doing nothing is as harmful and the same thing as voting GOP.

    On the treason issue, that was never formally charged, and no one to date has provided two witnesses to the same overt act calling for violent overthrow of the US Government [that’s required by the Constitution]. So, Awlaki’s family as well as the other families involved including the two service men killed by friendly fire, could theoretically sue for murder, a la OJ. Otherwise, we have a situation where someone the POTUS doesn’t like for any reason can be disappeared and killed without any explanation whatsoever. And, yes, that is a huge problem which is actually worse when Rove gets to call the shots because his guy’s in the Oval Office.

    Elections have consequences, and this one is bad or far worse for our choices.

  8. thatvisionthing says:

    I dunno, so I’m wondering, can a congressperson now sue the president or charge him* with murder? As if all of us are equal, and equally important, and Awlaki’s life matters as much as a congressperson’s or a president’s or your child’s or mine? I’m watching a president lead the whole government into complicity in murder. And wondering if anyone in government will actually stand up and say NO. Not in my name, not with my complicity. Wyden, Kucinich, Whitehouse, Sanders, Conyers, Rand or Ron Paul? Anyone? When will they get sick enough of who they are becoming?

    *I’m talking criminal charges. Impeachment is fine too though.

  9. rugger9 says:

    @jerryy: #7
    We also know that even though Obama has been highly disappointing, especially as he really does know better, George W Bush is the worst president ever by any objective measure you’d like to show me. The current group is worse than he is.

    Believing any GOPer would have a “come to Jesus” moment and become civilized is a fool’s errand. Anyone even remotely non-prolix is run off the island in the primaries. It’s what happened to Huntsman, Pawlenty [no loss, there], and so on. It’s why the former moderates like Snowe vote in lockstep with the nutbags, because they know that any straying from the reservation means a well-funded primary opponent willing to do or say anything to get elected. It’s why the House has taken up zero jobs bills even though the GOP ran on “jobs, jobs, jobs”. It’s why the governors mentioned above [and Mitch Daniels in IN] ran on one platform and in office proceeded to systematically loot their treasury with tax breaks and sweetheart deals, then claim crisis and then use that crisis as a stick to crush the unions. You really need to understand that there is NO deal making with this version of the GOP, you cannot trust them at all.

  10. jerryy says:

    @rugger9: Okay, game on.

    !) Transparency in Government
    2) Number of US Citizens assasinated by the US Government

    GW Bush was not as bad (after 2 terms) as BH Obama has been after 3 years. Just for starters.

    Your turn.

  11. MadDog says:

    Speaking of the US assassination of US citzens Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, it seems that US intelligence has a sad – via WaPo’s Greg Miller:

    “As al-Qaeda magazine goes quiet, intelligence analysts also lose a valuable resource

    Al-Qaeda’s glossy online magazine, Inspire, hasn’t been seen since its creators were killed in a U.S. drone strike last fall, but the terrorist group’s loyalists aren’t the only ones lamenting its demise.

    U.S. intelligence analysts miss the publication, too, at least to the extent that it provided a window into the thinking of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemen-based group is known.

    “It was something that helped us gain insight into the group,” said a U.S. defense official involved in tracking AQAP, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The publication’s apparent demise is “an intelligence loss for us,” the official said…”

  12. MadDog says:

    A bit OT, via MSNBC – Another nail in the MEK coffin should the MEK troll supporters show up as they usually do to any negative mention of MEK:

    “Israel teams with terror group to kill Iran’s nuclear scientists, U.S. officials tell NBC News

    Deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by an Iranian dissident group that is financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service, U.S. officials tell NBC News, confirming charges leveled by Iran’s leaders.

    The group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, has long been designated as a terrorist group by the United States, accused of killing American servicemen and contractors in the 1970s and supporting the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran before breaking with the Iranian mullahs in 1980…

    …U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Obama administration is aware of the assassination campaign but has no direct involvement…”

    The entire lengthy piece by MSNBC’s Richard Engel and Robert Windrem is well worth a read. I recommend it!

  13. Bob Schacht says:

    @Steve Bates:

    @Bob Schacht: With all due respect (and I do have such respect for you; I’ve been reading your comments for years),

    Thank you for your kind words.

    I am not a purist when I decline to vote again for Mr. Obama this November. I am acting based on a deep commitment to my single highest priority issue, which is civil liberties.

    I share the high value you place on civil liberties. But by revealing that you are, in essence, a single value voter, aren’t you declaring yourself a purist? I care deeply about civil liberties, but I also care about health care (including women’s), war, tax equity, bank fraud, and a number of other issues. I need to make a choice based on all of those issues, not just one, which makes it rather difficult for me to decide who to vote for.

    Bob in AZ

  14. Tom Allen says:

    @rugger9: There are other options this year. Jill Stein (Green Party), Stewart Alexander (Socialist Party), and Rocky Anderson (Justice Party) to name just three. As long as we stick to the good-cop/bad-cop schtick, we’re stuck with cops. :-(

  15. Bill Michtom says:

    That Obama is better than the Rs is based on the flawed premise, I think, that being overtly ugly is better than creating a bipartisan consensus on all the same policies.

    It also ignores the damage done when liberal groups are suckered into accepting a “seat at the table” rather than working for real influence, something that only happens when O can’t count on their support.

    This is what happened with NARAL Pro-Choice America & Planned Parenthood, who cheered on the so-called Affordable Care Act that made abortion access more difficult then it’d been since before Roe. Both groups abandoned their constituents and proved to their opponents that the time for cutting them off at the knees was here.

    The strategy that I think is necessary is to turn to.to join Occupy. The system isn’t reformable. As Occupy is doing, an alternative must be created while refusing to cooperate with the corrupted system we have.

    If you feel you have to, vote for Obama, but DON’T publicly commit to him or his corporate Dem allies and DON’T tell pollsters you’re doing it. Once the mainstream knows that you will give them your vote because of “lesser evilism,” you’re doomed.

  16. rugger9 says:

    @jerryy: #11
    Really???? You really want to go there????
    Transparency: Cheney Task Force, illegal wiretapping, burrowing Bushies, Rove’s “missing” blackberry, missing records and emails for the National Archive, forgetfulness at Congressional committees, outing active NOC CIA assets who just happen to be working on ME WMDs [which fits the definition of treason, by the way], which no one found any in Iraq, W’s ANG records [hence the nickname AWOL, does anyone think for just one moment that the soldier that found ANYTHING wouldn’t have been given the tickets for whatever rank he/she wanted?]. Pixie dust classification. That’s off the top of my head. Most of the Obama policies originated under Bush, I agree he should have stopped them, but it isn’t the same as saying it was his idea.

    Killing citizens: Amerithrax [which really looks like an inside job], a few convenient suicides and plane crashes, the matter of the Iraq war after calling the dogs off BinLaden at Tora Bora [over 4400, almost 3000 after “mission accomplished”] launched under a cloud of lies orchestrated by the WH; Katrina [NOAA predicted, Corps of Engineers wargamed, Bush and Brownie ignored and claimed no one asked for help until the emails showed them to be LYING]; Failing to address the CIA’s PDB and blinking red warnings and the curious non-response to 9/11/01 [“you’ve covered your ass, now”, remember Condi was giving a speech on missile defense on 9/12/01] except to let the Bin Laden family fly out of the USA on 9/12/01 when no one else was flying, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Walter Reed treatment of the wounded, deliberate downgrading of returning soldiers’ disability claims so Rummy could save a couple of $$$ and letting PTSD’d soldiers loose on the streets in addition to the ones missing various body parts. In addition you have electrocuted soldiers in showers put together by incompetent and unaccountable contractors. Just off the top of my head. Many thousands of Americans, including the friendly fire death of Tillman that Bush turned into a political action.

    Add to that the worst recession since the Great Depression [and in some ways worse, see Krugman on the subject, he only has a Nobel], taking a budget surplus and creating the largest deficit ever, doing as little as possible about the banking fiasco [Paulson’s three page plan, remember that??], torture [which is why George and other Bushies have limited travel plans, and included the Canadian who his own government paid off], being a worldwide laughingstock, selling us off to the Chinese bit by bit, GTMO and the military commission show trials, releasing over 80% of the GTMO detainees who were proclaimed to be the “worst of the worst”, HAVA hackable electronic voting machines, NCLB, contractors losing 9 billion dollars in 100s as well as thousands of AK-47s that went to the Mahdis in part. Plus two stolen elections. Just off the top of my head.

    What did Obama do to stack up against that? Jerryy? Jerryy? Jerryy? It’s typical of you Bushie apologists to throw out the claim that “Obama’s worse” without any facts to check. Facts, please, and we’ll be checking them.

    Now, I agree that OWS needs our support and will be a very useful way to pressure Obama into being a real Democrat. After all, remember before OWS the discussion was ONLY about the need to reduce the deficit and the Simpson “Catfood commission”, not about the robosigning or anything else affecting Main Street. So, I would argue that while we continue to support OWS, we also do not dilute our votes by going away from the best hope to keep the GOP OUT of the WH. Failing in that mission [recall how Nader’s candidacy help tank Gore in 2000] means the end of America’s hope for the future. How much are you willing to sacrifice for purity in policy, now?

  17. rugger9 says:

    Tom Allen, has any of these parties won a national election? No? Then we have to go with the team we have, even though your group are probably better qualified. That said, between elections we need to develop another party or two that can go toe to toe here, which will be harder in the Citizens United environment, much as we need this to happen to keep the PTB honest.

  18. jerryy says:

    @rugger9: Do you feel better?

    Mixing vitriol with ad hominem raises your blood pressure, but does nothing to change the facts of what has happened.

    Actual facts, not your supposition thrown out there to serve as facts. For example: the utterly disgusting crap surrounding the death of Pat Tillman (which you brought up). While those that took part in that travesty should be in jail, there has been no suggestion that he was killed because of a directed targeted order from the president.

    Read Ms. Marcy’s very thorough work regarding the anthrax situation. This would be an excellent way to hang the rat bastards out to dry, but there is no evidence that a directed targeted assassination order came from the president.

    [Avoid trying to put words in my mouth a part of your efforts, I have actively opposed GW Bush’s national aspirations since his campaign against Ann Richards. Apologist? Child, you can try again.]

    “In 17 months in office, President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions. His administration has taken actions that might have provoked sharp political criticism for his predecessor, George W. Bush, who was often in public fights with the press.”


    If you want to look at cover ups, compare the number of FOIA requests, the number of denials, the number of leaks, the number of prosecutions of leaks. It is a simple start.

  19. rugger9 says:

    @jerryy: #20
    Ad hominem? Only the one calling someone a “child” as you do has engaged in ad hominem attack. If you try to claim without any evidence [the NYT, really, after Judy, Friedman Units and a whole host of fawning articles over Bush and his lackeys, and remember the editorial staff that decides what runs are conservatives].

    You also don’t provide a list of FACTS to back up your claim that Obama is worse than Bush. None. It’s Jim White who is doing the heavy lifting on Amerithrax, not Marcy, so you need to do better fact-checking yourself before casting stones in my direction. And if you actually read my comments in those threads you will know that I think it is Darth who needs looking at most closely. But W put him there and W let the machinery engage in the sliming of Hatfill and Ivins.

    Having served overseas [did you?] I will note that the one in charge owns ALL of their underling’s activity, since you provided NO EVIDENCE of direct orders by Obama for the unlisted crimes you claim he committed, so we shall observe that because of your lack of any evidence presented you agree to my axiom on leader responsibility. And that puts Shrub in the spotlight, since he chose the people to work for them and prevented meaningful investigations at every turn by his relentless, unfounded claims of executive privilege. The issue with Tillman was that the Bushies from the top on down used his death as a political talking point for sacrifice, did nothing about the chain of command that killed him [what’s McChrystal doing these days?], lied to the family for years. W had the OBLIGATION as a leader to stop this, but he did nothing.

    FOIA requests, really? Do we count the witch hunt ones from the birthers and their fellow travelers? I’ll go look, but I’m pretty sure you aren’t on as solid ground as you think you are otherwise you would have provided numbers and links. That was why Rove “lost” his Blackberry, because we were trying to find out just how politicized the DOJ was by Bushies [remember Iglesias getting fired for being on reserve duty, when the real reason was for not playing ball on political prosecutions? There’s another one for you to check.

    Show me with more facts than a SINGLE poorly sourced NYT article how Obama is worse than GWB. You asked for a list, you got one. I ask for a list, I get ad hominem BS and waffling.

    List, please.

  20. jerryy says:

    Still attacking the messenger instead of the message.

    “[The] President of the United States obviously reviews these cases, reviews the legal justification, and in the end says, go or no go,” Panetta said.


    The yeoman’s work Mr. White has done does not detract from the enormous and careful work Ms. Marcy has done, it adds together to emphasize what I said, there is no evidence of a directed targeted assassination order from the president.

  21. rugger9 says:

    @jerryy: #22
    What about the rest of my very extensive list? Just because the records aren’t released from the Bush WH, the subject of many FOIA requests, doesn’t mean he didn’t do it explicitly, we just don’t know. He certainly presided over it, and would have had to give at least tacit go ahead due to the political stakes. Notice how quietly he cut and ran out of Saudi Arabia because OBL wanted him to? Lack of control by the leader does not excuse responsibility.

    FWIW, I agree with you on the “targeted assassination” issue, it is completely un-American on anyone, especially Americans, and unfortunately the natural outgrowth of the enemy combatant policies exemplified by Padilla, who might tell you a thing or two if his brain weren’t turned to mush [Bush did that, by the way]. Compare that to the earlier Lindh case. I would therefore argue that while Obama has actually has done more in this regard, Al Libi might have a bone to pick with you regarding Bush, as well as the other disappeared “black site” prisoners.

    List please, you have one insufficient to prove that Obama’s worse against many things that say otherwise.

  22. jerryy says:

    You asked in #10 “…George W Bush is the worst president ever by any objective measure you’d like to show me.”

    I responded  in #11 with “…!) Transparency in Government
    2) Number of US Citizens assasinated by the US Government”

    I have stuck to that throughout, BH Obama, is worse than GW Bush in these areas without veering into other areas, such as the black site prison as Bagram that President Obama refuses to al;ow the International Red Cross or Amnesty International to visit.

    As a people, we do not have use Divine Right Of Kings for our rule of Law. We have (in part) the following:

    Amendment IV

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    Amendment V

    No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

    Amendment VI

    In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

    Amendment VII

    In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

    Amendment VIII

    Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

    Amendment IX

    The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

    Amendment X

    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

  23. rugger9 says:

    @jerryy: #24
    Wrong question answered. Typical of the discussion that you dodged the issue.

    You have to show me why Obama is worse as a President than GWB, I gave you a list as to why not, not including all of the 145 items listed by Wikipedia. Seriously, go look. Extraordinary renditions, check, Office of Special Plans, check, signing statements, check, stovepiping, politicizing the science, land giveaways, check check check.

    Illegal surveillance? Bush was sued for it, that’s what the OR case was about, when the DOJ sent the details to the lawyers for Al-Haramain.

    Seriously, you have nothing that you’ve presented as evidence that Obama was worse as a President than Shrub. Cherrypicking only exposes your bias, you owe me a list.

  24. The New Future says:

    If this ‘MEMO’ had been written prior to ‘The Hollywood Shootout’, Waco, and all the other ‘incidents’.. that required LE to (Really!)hang it out there….
    NO, I’m not anti-LE, my family has many serving,Civi & MIL. And I am PROUD of each and everyone, it’s a Thankless Job.
    They’ve a bigger set than I!

    But by the (Thinking)Justification’s that seem ‘so easy’ to grab hold of, ‘Justify’ in this’GWOT/WOT’ (time/World)…

    Since the people(seem to) have NO Right to know ‘The Thinking’ for the ‘Legal’ Justification.

    Can there be any doubt…The Outcome?

    It’s just a matter of time,..and of course…
    The ‘Proper’ Incident.
    Sept,10,2001..If I told you… Tango’s would….
    I’d have been called…well, there’s just to many to list.
    And here WE are….The ‘Proper’ Incident, magine that.

    And thats a Promise, from the ‘Goodhands People.’
    The ‘Proper’ Incident….will appear.

    I supported 100%..’HAMMERING’ AQ for 911…but I fear the U.S. has developed a Un-reversable case of PTSD,’Extreme’ Paranoia & whose knows what else…and all the Meds in the Cabinet and all the Shrinks.. ‘can’t put it back together again.’
    Lest you be a ……(pick one)

    TK’s are coming to CONUS…It’s the next ‘Lo-gical’ step….
    The ‘Proper’ Incident.

    I fear deeply for my & others children, it’s all they (will) know (Now).
    The New Normal…

    It’s stunning how easy the U.S. People are manipulated(9th February, 1950) and unable to reverse Madness(To Present day.)

    FEAR, The Greatest motivator….
    since Alcohol, the backseat & a drive-inn.

    May God or whom ever you choose…..help us all.

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