DoJ opinions: Known unknown unknowns

Not only is the White House keeping kill list opinions secret, it's a secret how many OLC opinions even exist

By Natasha Lennard

Published February 25, 2013 10:15PM (EST)

Following the limited and controlled release of four Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinions on targeted killings to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Obama administration has flouted demands by some senators to see more classified documents on the legal justification for extrajudicial killing.

According to the Huffington Post's Ryan J. Reilly, the secrecy surrounding legal opinions is at a meta level. Not only can we not know the content of these legal opinions, we can't even know how many such opinions have been issued. Via HuffPo:

In response to the Freedom of Information Act request, the OLC sent a letter dated Feb. 20 and enclosed five mostly redacted lists from 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and the first month-and-a-half of 2013.

What's more interesting is what wasn't included: The office stated that it was withholding, in full, 11 lists of classified OLC opinions. Because the length of each list is unknown, it's unclear how many classified opinions the OLC has issued during the Obama administration.

Reilly's inquiry pertained to all classified OLC opinions, not just those pertaining to targeted killing. It is believed that the OLC has issued 11 opinions on targeted killings alone, having only shown four to a limited number of senators. To crib from Donald Rumsfeld's classifications, these unseen opinions on kill lists are "known unknowns." Not knowing how many classified OLC opinions even exist merits a new Rumsfeld-ism entirely: known unknown unknowns, perhaps?



Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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