After refusing in the past even to acknowledge the existence of memos offering a legal basis for targeting American citizens who’ve become Al Qaeda leaders, the Obama administration on Thursday agreed to show these documents to members of the congressional intelligence committees. It’s a positive step, but doesn’t go far enough. The administration owes the public a broader explanation of the legal theories behind drone attacks on Americans who have joined Al Qaeda, such as Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical cleric who was killed in 2011.
The attacks have become a topic of concern surrounding President Obama’s nomination of John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism adviser, to head the CIA. Earlier this week, NBC obtained an administration “white paper” outlining its procedures for targeting American citizens who have become “high level” Al Qaeda officials. The paper states that the CIA can strike only if “an informed, high-level official” decides the citizen poses “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.”