The Commercial Appeal

Obama yields in drone dispute

Senators get secret memo

- By Karen De Young and Greg Miller

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama yielded Wednesday to congressio­nal demands that he provide access to a secret legal memo on the targeted killing of American terrorism suspects overseas, avoiding a confrontat­ion that threatened the confirmati­on of John Brennan as his new CIA director.

Obama directed the Justice Department to hand over the document

to the Senate Intelligen­ce Committee “as part of the president’s ongoing commitment to consult with Congress on national security matters,” an administra­tion official said.

Senate Democrats and Republican­s, including several on the Intelligen­ce Committee, had threatened to delay, if not derail, Brennan’s confirmati­on in a Thursday hearing.

Committee chairman Dianne Feinstein, D- Calif., said she was “pleased” with the decision. “It is critical for the committee’s oversight function to fully understand the legal basis for all intelligen­ce and counterter­rorism operations,” Feinstein said.

The memos, written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, provided the administra­tion’s legal basis for a 2011 CIA drone attack in Yemen that killed U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Obama described Awlaki as the chief of “external operations” for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

The administra­tion had described the memo as an internal “work product” that does not have to be shared with Congress.

Lawmakers accused the administra­tion of a lack of transparen­cy and likened its handling of the issue to the refusal of the George W. Bush administra­tion to provide access to legal memos justifying the use of harsh interrogat­ion methods against terrorism suspects. Obama publicly released those memos shortly after taking office in 2009.

Last summer, the Justice Department provided members of the Intelligen­ce and Judiciary committees with a summary of the legal opinion on U. S. citizen killings. But key lawmakers said it was not enough.

In written answers to the Intelligen­ce Committee released by the panel Wednesday in advance of the hearing, Brennan said the CIA should not be in the killing business.

However, he also defended the “astonishin­g precision” of the armed drones operated by both the intelligen­ce agency and the military.

Asked about the CIA’s expanded role in lethal operations, Brennan replied that the agency needs to maintain a paramilita­ry capability, but said, “I would not be the director of a CIA that carries out missions that should be carried out by the U.S. military.”

Despite those views, the CIA expanded into a covert air force of remotely piloted planes during Brennan’s tenure as Obama’s chief counterter­rorism adviser over the past four years.

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