The Washington Post reports:
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Monday plans to provide the most detailed account to date of the Obama administration’s legal rationale for killing U.S. citizens abroad, as it did in last year’s airstrike against an alleged al-Qaeda operative in Yemen, officials said. . . . his speech Monday will mark a new and higher-profile phase of the administration’s campaign to justify lethal action in those rare instances in which U.S. citizens, such as New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki, join terrorist causes devoted to harming their homeland.But when my organization, the Government Accountability Project, (and other civil liberties groups) request the legal memo justifying the killing of al-Awlaki from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), OLC maintains that the "existence or non-existence" of the memo is classified.
To review the Justice Department's completely ridiculous and indefensible position on the assassination memo:
*Days after the Obama administration engages in the targeted killing of an American citizen without due process, anonymous "administration officials" leak the existence of the legal memo rationalizing the assassination to the Washington Post.
*When the "don't worry, we've got a legal memo" excuse fails to satisfy civil libertarians questioning the expansion of Executive power to killing American citizens without affording a bunch of fundamental Constitutional rights (due process, jury trials, right to confront accusers, etc.), details of the memo appeared on the New York Times front page, including when the memo was written, who authored the memo, the memo's legal reasoning, and even the memo's number of pages in the memo.
*Now, the Attorney General is going to give a public speech at Northwestern University Law School important enough to warrant more anonymous leaks to WaPo further detailing the "logic" of assassinating Americans.
Nonetheless, the Obama administration expects the public to believe that even revealing the "existence or non-existence" of the memo will harm national security.
So, the memo might not exist, but we know it is about 50 pages long, as if it is supposed to provide some comfort that the Justice Department will at least type out a few thousand words before sending a drone to kill Americans.
The absolute absurdity of Holder speaking publicly about a classified - possibly non-existent (as if any of us are naive enough to buy that response) - memo while the Justice Department claims it will harm national security to release the memo fits nicely with the rest of the Obama administration's schizophrenic policy on government transparency. Josh Gerstein of Politico reported on "President Obama's muddy transparency record:"
• Administration lawyers are aggressively fighting FOIA requests at the agency level and in court — sometimes on Obama’s direct orders. They’ve also wielded anti-transparency arguments even bolder than those asserted by the Bush administration.Not exactly what is expected from an administration claiming to be "the most open and transparent in history."
• The administration has embarked on an unprecedented wave of prosecutions of whistleblowers and alleged leakers — an effort many journalists believe is aimed at blocking national security-related stories. “There just seems to be a disconnect here. You want aggressive journalism abroad; you just don’t want it in the United States,” ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper told White House press secretary Jay Carney at a recent briefing for reporters.
• In one of those cases, the Justice Department is trying to force a New York Times reporter to identify his confidential sources and is arguing that he has no legal protection from doing so.
• Compliance with agencies’ open-government plans has been spotty, with confusing and inaccurate metrics sometimes used to assess progress. Some federal agencies are also throwing up new hurdles, such as more fees, in the path of those seeking records.
• The Office of Management and Budget has stalled for more than a year the proposals of the chief FOIA ombudsman’s office to improve government wide FOIA operations.
The Obama administration has revealed what it wants to reveal and concealed the rest, too often under the specter of harm to "national security." This brand of cafeteria government openness is more than just frustrating to FOIA requesters. It endangers a democratic society - which relies on an informed public - by reducing the public's information to pro-government talking points and Attorney General stump speeches at law schools.