The Senate Judiciary Committee Hasn’t Seen the Targeted Killing Memo Either

I guess it should be no surprise that Pat Leahy, the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, hasn’t seen the memo authorizing the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. After all, if the full Senate Intelligence Committee–which is supposed to exercise oversight over covert operations like that assassination–hasn’t seen the memo, then it’d be unlikely the Administration would share it with Leahy, much less the full committee.

But Charlie Savage confirms that Leahy has not seen it (while also catching Eric Holder giving a response far more comprehensive than the Glomar response the NYT and ACLU have received in FOIA requests).

For months, the Obama administration has refused to confirm or deny the existence of a Justice Department memorandum that approved the targeted killing of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who died in a drone strike in Yemen last September.

But in an exchange at a budget hearing on Thursday, Senator Patrick J. Leahy and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. came close to implicitly conceding that there is indeed such a memo, which was written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

Mr. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, brought up a conversation he said he and Mr. Holder had earlier this week about a speech on “drones and targeting of U.S. citizens” that the attorney general delivered on Monday.

“I still want to see the Office of Legal Counsel memorandum and I would urge you to keep working on that,” Mr. Leahy said to Mr. Holder. “I realize that’s a matter of some debate within the administration but …”

The senator then paused, smiled and laughed. Mr. Holder responded by nodding and said, chuckling, “That would be true.”

Say, Pat?

You were in an Appropriations Committee hearing.

One way–the only proven way–of forcing an Administration to act like it’s still a democracy is to withhold funds. Attach rules like, “DOJ may not authorize the targeted killing of US citizens unless it has shared the legal argument with its oversight committees.” Or, “DOJ may not authorize the targeted killing of US citizens without due process including judicial review.”

Unless you actually make the Administration act like they’re in a democracy, we’re all just pretending. And an Appropriations meeting is the perfect time to do such things.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

6 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    That would require that Senators actually do their effing jobs, and there’s probably a memo somewhere that they do have access to, that says they don’t have to do anything for their paychecks.

  2. Peterr says:

    But in an exchange at a budget hearing on Thursday, Senator Patrick J. Leahy and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. came close to implicitly conceding that there is indeed such a memo, which was written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

    Holder has his choice of two problems to deal with:

    (1) If there is no memo, then he’s got to defend the situation whereby the US Government is practicing the targeted killing of US citizens without any discussion of a possible legal basis for doing so.

    (2) If there is a memo, then he’s got to defend the practice of what amounts to making secret law via executive branch fiat and without oversight by either the legislative or judicial branches. Oh, and he’s got to defend the memo itself, too.

    As the cliche goes, you get to pick your poison, Mr. Holder.

  3. rugger9 says:

    @Peterr: #3
    Quite the unpalatable choice, and let’s not forget that this shines a light on the general lack of oversight done over the years by the Congresscritters who may not wish to be reminded of their failings at election time. That’s why Leahy [who should know better as a former USA and while digging into the Libby scandal] seems perfectly willing to go along with this kabuki. Again.

    One day these fools will wake up and realize no one needs to talk to them again.

  4. klynn says:

    Unless you actually make the Administration act like they’re in a democracy, we’re all just pretending. And an Appropriations meeting is the perfect time to do such things.

    I hope you sent this post as a letter to Leahy. Great statement btw.

  5. Bob Schacht says:

    @Peterr:
    Or 3. There is such a memo, Yoo like, but it is not well-written and has already been questioned within the administration. So they don’t want to be embarrassed by a faulty memo written in defense of a bad operational decision.

    Oh, and I agree with klynn @5, too.

    Bob in AZ

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