The Obama administration responded that it absolutely has the legal authority to use force under conditions like these. The tricky part came after – when the administration’s attorneys didn’t want to tell anyone how or why it had the authority. In effect, the argument was, “What we did was legal. Honest. Take our word for it. We can’t elaborate, but we looked into it and we’re sure.”That totally ignores the following:
- Attorney General Eric Holder's speech in March 2012 outlining the legal rationale for targeted killing of al Qaeda operatives - even if they are American citizens.
- The release of the Justice Department White Paper on the legal case for drone strikes on Americans.
- President Obama's remarks about the legal case for the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki during his speech on counterterrorism strategies in May 2013.
It is perfectly valid to mount arguments against the rationale that has been articulated. What is wrong is to continue to suggest that the Obama administration "didn't want to tell anyone how or why it had the authority." As I noted the other day, the judge who ordered the release of this memo said:
“Whatever protection the legal analysis might once have had has been lost by virtue of public statements of public officials at the highest levels and official disclosure of the DOJ White Paper,” Judge Jon Newman wrote in the Second Circuit’s opinion...It frustrates me that these kinds of errors continue to surface in reporting about the Obama administration - especially from someone as reliable as Steve Benen.