Skip to main content

Obama administration to release drone strike justification memo

By Evan Perez and Jim Acosta, CNN
updated 6:45 AM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
A destroyed car that was carrying militants in the Sawmaa area of al-Bayda province, Yemen on April 19, 2014.
A destroyed car that was carrying militants in the Sawmaa area of al-Bayda province, Yemen on April 19, 2014.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Obama administration will comply with a court ruling to release the memo
  • A redacted document will be released to the public after a judge approves it
  • The memo outlines the legal argument for targeting U.S. citizens on foreign soil
  • U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen in a drone strike in 2011

(CNN) -- The Obama administration is preparing to publicly disclose for the first time a secret memo offering the legal justification for targeted drone strikes on U.S. citizens on foreign soil, multiple administration officials told CNN.

Solicitor General Don Verrilli decided not to appeal the April 21 ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals mandating the disclosure of the memo, and Attorney General Eric Holder agreed with that decision.

The White House was informed Tuesday of the Justice Department's decision.

The memo won't be made public right away. It has to go through a redaction process that will need to be approved by a judge, according to the administration officials.

The impact of US drones in Yemen
Official: At least 65 militants killed

A redacted version also means that some of the intelligence the administration used to justify the drone strikes will not be made public.

The memo to be released publicly has already been offered to the Senate on a classified basis, a senior administration official said.

The legal explanation for the drone strikes was also outlined by the Justice Department in the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by the father of suspected terrorist leader Anwar al-Awlaki. The administration said in that lawsuit that al-Awlaki posed an imminent threat.

Anwar al-Awlaki was later killed in a U.S. drone attack in Yemen in 2011.

The memo's author, former Justice Department official David Barron, has been nominated to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, based in Boston. Several U.S. senators from both parties had called upon the administration to release the memo to the public before Barron's confirmation.

A procedural vote on Barron's nomination is expected Wednesday in the Senate.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for the memo along with the New York Times, said it hopes the release "signals a broader shift in the administration's approach to the official secrecy surrounding its targeted killing program."

"The release of this memo will allow the public to better understand the scope of the authority that the government is claiming," ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement Tuesday.

READ: Iran says it built copy of captured U.S. drone

READ: Another U.S. citizen a potential drone target

READ: Source: 'Massive' attack targets al Qaeda in Yemen

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:45 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Pakistan Taliban say the school attack was revenge for the killing of children in a military offensive -- but they are being pressed by defections to ISIS.
A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures has posted a public threat against moviegoers who see Sony's "The Interview."
updated 9:43 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
updated 4:48 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
updated 9:12 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
updated 7:12 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after Sydney hostage siege.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
China-bound AirAsia flight turns back to Bangkok after passenger throws water over crew member.
updated 5:26 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
It takes Nepalese eye doctor, Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone's life.
updated 5:54 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
This epic journey crosses 13,000 kilometers, eight countries over 21 days. Find out where.
updated 9:31 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT