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Obama to reveal legal rationale for killing US citizens abroad by drones

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The Obama administration plans to reveal a confidential memo outlining its legal justification for using assassination drones against US citizens abroad.

The secret legal opinion was written by David Barron, former Justice Department attorney and Harvard Law professor, who was nominated by President Barack Obama to sit on the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

The decision comes as the Senate is to vote on advancing Barron’s nomination on Wednesday but some lawmakers have said they would block the nomination, unless the memo was released publicly.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., had pledged to fight Barron’s confirmation in addition to some Democratic senators who were calling for the memo’s public release before a final vote.

Furthermore, a court issued ruling ordering the Justice Department to turn over a redacted version of the memo, but the Justice Department has sought to appeal the ruling.

The White House had earlier agreed to show senators unredacted copies of all written legal proposal written by Barron but so far, the administration has fought in court to keep the writings from public view.

However, administration officials told the Associated Press that that Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. decided this week not to appeal the court ruling which requires disclosure of the redacted version of the memo under the Freedom of Information Act.

Attorney General Eric Holder also concurred with Verrilli Jr’s opinion on the issue.

The American Civil Liberties Union and New York Times had previously demanded that the government release the memo following a 2011 drone attack that killed US-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

Barron signed off on the killing of US citizens like al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and naturalized US citizen Samir Khan.

A CIA drone strike killed al-Awlaki and Khan in Yemen in September 2011. In October 2011, another drone attack in Yemen left al-Awlaki’s son and six other people dead.

The US military has used the unmanned aircraft in several Muslim countries, including Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Washington claims that its airstrikes target militants, but local sources say civilians have been the main victims of the attacks. The United Nations has called the US drone attacks “targeted killings that flout international law.”

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