Wyden letter to CIA director-nominee Brennan seeks legal opinions on killing of Americans

Press release from the office of Senator Ron Wyden: With the confirmation process for Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency set to be begin shortly, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is asking Brennan to provide Congress with the secret legal opinions outlining the government’s ability to target and kill Americans believed to be involved in terrorism.

In a letter to Brennan [PDF] sent today, Wyden reiterated his concerns that the intelligence community, Justice Department and the Administration have not been adequately forthcoming to Congress on their legal justifications for targeting and potentially killing U.S. citizens believed to be involved in terrorism activities. He said that it is important that the legal opinions guiding these activities be released so that Congress and the American people can “have full knowledge of how the executive branch understands the limits and boundaries of this authority…”

“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,” Wyden wrote in the letter.

For more than two years, Wyden has been seeking these legal opinions and others but has either received insufficient responses to his inquiries or no response at all. He has asked that prior to the start of Brennan’s confirmation hearing in the Intelligence committee that he and other committee members and their cleared staffs are given these opinions and that written assurance be given to the committee that future legal opinions related to this topic will also be provided.

“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,” Wyden continued in the letter.

Wyden also asked for a list of countries in which the intelligence community has used its lethal counterterrorism authorities. He also is seeking declassification of secret legal opinions made by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel one of which regards common commercial service agreements. He has asked for this legal opinion to be revoked.

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