US senators threaten Obama with bid to block his picks for CIA, Pentagon
Eleven US senators have threatened to block the confirmation of President Obama’s nominees to lead the CIA and the Defense Department unless they gain access to his administration’s “legal memos” justifying assassination of US citizens abroad.
In a Monday letter sent to President Barack Obama, the lawmakers, eight Democrats and three Republicans, warned the top American official that they would consider blocking his nominees to direct the CIA spy agency as well as the Defense Department unless the documents were turned over to them, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
The development came just three days before White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was to face a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing to become the next CIA director.
A vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee is currently pending for former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel following his hearing last week to become the US secretary of defense.
Cooperation with the request “will help avoid an unnecessary confrontation that could affect the Senate’s consideration of nominees for national security positions,” said the letter, signed by three members of the Senate’s intelligence panel, Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, and Republican Susan Collins of Maine.
It was perhaps due to this warning letter that finally prompted the Obama administration to disclose on Monday a Justice Department “white paper’ that outlines the government’s “legal” argument for killing Americans accused of acting as al-Qaeda operatives.
The so-called white paper insists that the US can lawfully kill one of its own citizens overseas if it finds that the individual is a “senior, operational leader” or an operative of the totally obscure al-Qaeda group across the globe and poses an ‘imminent danger’ to the United States.
Senator Wyden accused the Obama administration of stonewalling in an interview, telling the daily “The idea that the president has this extraordinary power that can be utilized in secret without any oversight or accountability, I think is wrong and detrimental to the public interest.”
The communication, also signed by the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and the panel’s ranking Republican member Charles Grassley of Iowa, was the latest effort to force the Obama administration to turn over “secret legal opinions that lay out the rationales for killing Americans” accused by US officials of having a role in “terrorism plots.”
The administration, however, cited executive privilege and attorney-client relationship between the White House and the Justice Department, which produced the secret memos.
The administration has briefed lawmakers on the memos and summarized their contents in writing, the report said, citing congressional officials. However, it noted, Wyden said the refusal to furnish actual documents has made a “mockery” of congressional oversight.
The US assassination drone campaign, better known as targeted-killing, has so far murdered thousands of civilians and some militants in hundreds of strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
The only US citizen reportedly targeted under the secret assassination policy was Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Muslim of Yemeni descent that was deported from the US to Yemen following his public criticism of the Bush administration’s so-called global anti-terror policies after the 9/11 incidents, which primarily targeted Muslims in the US and throughout the world accused of sympathizing with the shadowy al-Qaeda terrorist group.
Three other Americans, including Awlaki’s teenage son, also have been killed in US terror drone strikes but were reportedly not ‘the primary targets.’