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Editorial: Congress Deserves Info On Drone Targeting

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It took some pushing, but a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, including Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, got President Obama to agree to have his administration cough up classified documents so Congress can decide if there is legal justification for killing American citizens suspected of involvement in terrorist activities against the U.S. without due process.

It’s a reasonable question, and one that has not been adequately addressed by this administration.

The 11 senators wrote the president asking for more information in advance of the confirmation hearing, which began Thursday, for John Brennan, Obama’s nominee to head the CIA.

The senators say it’s the job of Congress to oversee such matters of national security and the use of extraordinary authority. And while their letter notes the president has the authority to order the killing of an American who would “choose to take up arms” against his own country, they want more specifics, especially from the Justice Department.

The documents included a Justice Department memo on the use of drones, Udall says, but not the complete legal opinions Congress has requested and which Udall says are needed to evaluate the justifications. According to the memo, drones can be used against U.S. citizens if the suspect is involved in ongoing plotting against the United States. Evidence that a specific attack is imminent is not necessary.

Udall and the other senators are right to raise questions on this. And Obama’s decision to provide the documentation — even if partly forced by Brennan’s confirmation hearing —also is the right thing to do. A White House spokesman said Obama “thinks it’s legitimate to ask questions about how we prosecute the war against al-Qaida.”

That is correct. Every administration should be ready to show how it is interpreting executive authority and also that it is abiding by the values Americans expect when it comes to the rights of its citizens.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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