"Ready for dinner"
The White House is resisting demands of some senators to provide more legal opinions justifying the use of targeted killing. During the Senate Intelligence Committee’s confirmation hearing for CIA director nominee John Brennan, a number of Democratic senators asked that they and their staff be given access to more legal memos — this request is, according to the New York Times Thursday, being flouted.
According to the Times, the administration is maneuvering information releases so as to appease just enough senators to see counterterror czar John Brennan confirmed as CIA director:
Rather than agreeing to some Democratic senators’ demands for full access to the classified legal memos on the targeted killing program, Obama administration officials are negotiating with Republicans to provide more information on the lethal attack last year on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, according to three Congressional staff members.
The strategy is intended to produce a bipartisan majority vote for Mr. Brennan in the Senate Intelligence Committee without giving its members seven additional legal opinions on targeted killing sought by senators.
Ahead of Brennan’s confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month, a DoJ White Paper summarizing when it is justified to add a U.S. citizen to the kill list was leaked to NBC. The ACLU’s Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer commented that the legal arguments in the White Paper “don’t stand up to even cursory review.”
Following this, the White House released two full legal memos on targeted killing to the intelligence committee members for a short period of time — but only the senators, not their staff or any legal experts were permitted access to the papers. Intelligence committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein decried the limited access during Brennan’s hearing, but is nonetheless likely to vote him in.
As the Times noted Thursday, while Brennan’s confirmation is highly unlikely to be blocked “the votes of at least two… Democratic senators who feel strongly about greater access to the legal opinions, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, are less certain.” However, while demands to see the kill list legal opinions are flouted, GOP requests to see the trail of e-mails that were the basis of “talking points” from the intelligence agencies regarding the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi are likely to be met.
The White House’s move makes Kabuki theater of Obama’s recent SOTU address vow, in which he said, “I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way… So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”
The Obama administration nonetheless continues to shroud its controversial counterterror programs from not only the general public, but Congress too. The state of exception — the expansion of executive power in response to ostensible existential threats to the nation — has once again proved itself the norm.
Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email firstname.lastname@example.org.More Natasha Lennard.