Feds to release drone memo on killing citizens tied to terrorism

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's Justice Department will release a long-sought secret document laying out the legal basis for using drones to kill Americans suspected of terrorist activities abroad, administration officials confirmed Tuesday.

Rather than appeal a court order that the so-called "drone memo" be released under the Freedom of Information Act, Attorney General Eric Holder concurred with the decision of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli not to pursue the appeal and agreed to release a redacted version of the document, the officials said.

Officials requested anonymity to discuss the closed-door deliberations, first disclosed Tuesday by The Associated Press. The documents will be released later, pending court approval. Administration lawyers are asking that the document be redacted to hide classified information, officials confirmed, although the legal reasoning will be legible.

The news leaked a day before the Senate was scheduled to hold a procedural vote to advance the judicial nomination of the memo's writer, David Barron, a former Justice Department official nominated to serve on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. The promise of disclosure did not appear to derail a promised filibuster of his nomination by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who said last week that he had read the memo and wasn't satisfied.

And in an advance excerpt from his prepared remarks, released Tuesday, Mr. Paul said he would oppose the nomination of "anyone who would argue that the president has the power to kill American citizens not involved in combat." Mr. Paul will say, "I rise today to say that there is no legal precedent for killing American citizens not directly involved in combat, and that any nominee who rubber stamps and grants such power to a president is not worthy of being placed one step away from the Supreme Court."

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he had lined up enough Democratic votes to confirm Mr. Barron.

"I think we'll be OK," he said. "I don't know if everybody, but certainly most everyone in our caucus is satisfied."

Before this week, the Obama administration had fought public release of the document, and had offered only to show unmarked copies privately to senators. But in recent weeks, even some Senate Democrats had been clamoring for the document's public release before the vote.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said the decision means that he will support Mr. Barron's nomination. He called it "a welcome development for government transparency."

Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader born in America, and his son were killed by drone strikes in Yemen.

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