SALEM, Ore. – After a KATU.com interview with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden regarding the Obama administration's refusal to release secret legal opinions that reportedly justify the killing of Americans suspected of terrorism, Oregon's senior senator renewed his call for more transparency in a letter to the president's nominee for CIA director, John Brennan.
"For the executive branch to claim that intelligence agencies have the authority to knowingly kill American citizens but refuse to provide Congress with any and all legal opinions that explain the executive branch’s understanding of this authority represents an alarming and indefensible assertion of executive prerogative," he wrote Brennan, who is now the assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.
Wyden is on the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence and is able to review classified documents and receive briefings on classified subjects; however, on the legal right for the Obama administration to knowingly target Americans suspected of being involved in terrorism, he's received very little.
And as to why the administration is virtually silent on the issue and won't give a senator authorized to see secret documents those that justify targeted killings, puzzles Wyden.
"You'll have to ask them that question (as to why)," he told KATU.com during an interview after his town hall in Portland on Sunday.
The controversy comes after several Americans were killed allegedly by U.S. drone strikes in the Middle East. The most well-known is the killing of American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen on Sept. 30, 2011. The Obama administration put him on a "kill list" after it alleged he plotted to harm and kill Americans or inspired others to do so.
And without capture, charge or trial it was reported the Obama administration, and perhaps the president himself, approved the killing of al-Awlaki.
The letter to Brennan is the latest in a long line of attempts by Wyden to get the administration to release the secret legal opinions at least to Congress. Of note, Wyden wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Feb. 12, 2012 demanding them.
Almost a year later, Wyden told KATU.com he still had not received an official response.
In his letter to Brennan, Wyden said that he's not giving up the fight.
"I have an obligation from my oath of office to review any classified legal opinions that lay out the federal government's official views on this issue, and I will not be satisfied until I have received them," he wrote.
Wyden also said he expects that the secret legal opinions be given to him and other members of the intelligence committee before Brennan’s confirmation hearing.
"These failures to respond start to form a pattern in which the executive branch is evading congressional oversight by simply not responding to congressional requests for information," Wyden wrote.