In October of 2011, Scholars & Rogues noted that the Obama administration had ordered the killing of an unindicted American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, an Al Qaeda media provocateur. The drone missile launched against al-Awlaki also killed another unindicted American citizen, Samir Khan, who was also engaged with Al Qaeda media efforts.
S&R noted that both men were likely deserving of their fate as plotters against the security of the United States. But death at the hands of government with no charge being laid and subsequently proven is morally wrong. So in March S&R demanded that the Obama administration release a memo that it said outlined its moral justification for killing al-Awlaki and Khan. Thus far, Attorney General Eric Holder has refused.
Now, more organizations are applying pressure on the White House to explain its policy that has resulted in the deaths of unindicted American citizens.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (also known as CREW) has joined 25 other organizations in demanding release of the memo written by Justice lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel.
Says CREW’s executive director, Melanie Sloan:
By withholding this memo, DOJ seems to be trying to evade the accountability that stems from transparency. Insisting that the memo remain secret is all the more surprising given President Obama’s stated commitment to an open government.
Here’s a list of the other groups demanding release of the memo:
American Library Association, Brennan Center for Justice, BORDC, Californians Aware, The Center for Public Forum Rights, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Collaboration on Government Secrecy, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Defending Dissent Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Federation of American Scientists, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Government Accountability Project, Indy Media, Liberty Coalition, Muck Rock, National Freedom of Information Coalition, National Security Archive, OMB Watch, OpenTheGovernment.org, Progressive Librarians Guild, Project on Government Oversight, Public Citizen, Society of Professional Journalists.
Here is an excerpt from the consortium’s letter to Holder:
One of the greatest strengths of our democracy lies in our country’s ability to engage in public debate on some of the most controversial issues of our time. The national soul searching that often accompanies such discussions strengthens our government and its decision-making processes. This occurred when President Barack Obama authorized the disclosure of memoranda issued by the OLC justifying the use of certain forms of torture on detainees, the so-called “torture memos.” Unquestionably the president made the right decision by releasing those memos — helping to restore confidence in our government — even if many citizens disagree with the policy authorized by the memos.
Today, we face yet another test of our democracy as questions are raised about the wisdom and legality of the United States government conducting targeted killings on foreign soil. Newspaper articles have revealed that the OLC issued a memorandum justifying the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, though it may apply to others as well. Nevertheless, despite numerous calls for its disclosure by members of Congress and several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the Department of Justice has refused to release this memo.
As during the last administration, by withholding such a critical document from the American people, the Department of Justice appears to be attempting to evade the accountability that stems from transparency.
Consider supporting the groups’ effort by contacting the White House (comments, 202-456-1111; switchboard, 202-456-1414; email contact form) and insisting on the release of the memo.
Who knows? Citizens might find the argument in the memo persuasive. While I doubt it, we’ll never know unless the White house releases that memo.