As the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence prepares to consider White House national security official John Brennan's nomination to be the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to President Obama today seeking the legal opinions outlining the president's authority to authorize the killing of American citizens during the course of counter-terrorism operations. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) also signed the letter.
These legal opinions issued by the Department of Justice have remained hidden from the general public and have been withheld from members of Congress, inhibiting Congress' ability to conduct necessary oversight. Several requests for these opinions have been either ignored or denied in the past, most recently a request by Senator Wyden made directly to Mr. Brennan several weeks ago.
"It is vitally important, however, for Congress and the American public to have a full understanding of how the executive branch interprets the limits and boundaries of this authority," the senators wrote in the letter, "so that Congress and the public can decide whether this authority has been properly defined, and whether the President's power to deliberately kill American citizens is subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards."
In the letter, the senators expressed their understanding that the authority to use lethal force against Americans exists in certain circumstances, but added that the limits and boundaries of that authority should be understood by the public and at the very least by members of Congress. They noted that the president has made statements in the past expressing the need for just this kind of transparency and about the value of well-informed oversight by Congress and the judicial system.
The senators stated that transparency on this issue will be important as the Senate considers national security nominees.
to read the letter.