Wyden to soon re-engage administration on targeted killing program

Wyden to soon re-engage administration on targeted killing program
In this file photo, an unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., says in a "matter of weeks" he'll return to the issue of working to force the Obama administration to reveal more to the public about when it can target and kill with a drone an American citizen suspected of terrorism.

Wyden, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, declined to go into any detail during an interview Friday about what his next move will be to continue breaking through the veil of secrecy on a program that has killed three Americans, including a 16-year-old boy with no known ties to terrorism.

"We'll have something to say (on targeted killing) very shortly – in a matter of weeks," he said.

Earlier this year after threatening to hold up the appointment of John Brennan to head the CIA, Wyden successfully got the Obama administration to give him and the committee the legal opinions that reportedly lay out the legal justification for killing Americans suspected of terrorism but who have never been captured or tried in a court of law.

The Obama administration's public acquiescence was a victory for Wyden, who had been pressing the administration for the opinions for more than two years.

While the committee has now seen those opinions, they remain classified.

During Kentucky's Sen. Rand Paul's nearly 13-hour filibuster of Brennan's appointment last March to get assurances from the administration that it had no intention of using drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil, Wyden took to the floor of the Senate to argue that more openness from the administration was still needed.

"I know I have had four sessions now with the classified documents that were made available as a member of the intelligence committee, and I still have a lot of questions," he said. "I also think there is a very strong case for beginning to declassify some of the information with respect to these drone policies, and I think that can be done as well, consistent with protecting our national security."

In response to a question during Friday's interview in Portland, Wyden stopped short of saying everything in those targeted killing legal opinions should be declassified.

"I would just say from a general standpoint, I think the classification process has been widely abused. It's been widely abused for – sometimes had gone on in a number of administrations, because the executive branch thinks it's more convenient to just classify everything," he said. "And so I'm very much committed to more declassification, I think it can be done without compromising sources and methods for what are essentially secret operations."

American-born Anwar al-Awlaki is the man at the center of the controversy. The Obama administration alleges that he turned against his country and plotted to kill Americans. He was killed in a drone strike Sept. 30, 2011 in Yemen while riding in a car with another American, Samir Khan, who, reportedly, was not even a target.

Two weeks later, al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was killed in another drone strike 200 miles away. The Obama administration has said that killing was accidental and it was actually targeting someone else; however, that target, al-Qaida leader Ibrahim al-Banna, was not killed.

Under political pressure, Obama and other members of his administration have given speeches and offered bits of information about the killing program in an attempt to legally and morally justify the strikes.

But it is clear that the senior senator from Oregon is still not satisfied.

KATU.com reporting on Wyden's transparency efforts: