On Monday, a federal appeals court released a memo on the extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. The public should have seen this memo long ago. The Obama administration suppressed it even after publicly invoking its logic; killing its subject in a drone strike; citing it to justify the legality of the killing; and appointing its author, David Barron, to a lifetime seat on a federal appeals court.
Why was it suppressed? If you read the redacted memo, you'll see that nothing released Monday threatens national security or hurts America's ability to wage the war on terrorism. As the debate about the legal standards set forth in the memo intensify, let's not forget what finally seeing this document makes clear: The Obama administration needlessly and illegitimately hid it from us for years. And this is just the latest evidence that Team Obama abuses its classification power.
Nor should anyone harbor the illusion that the public now fully understands the legal rationale used by the Obama administration to justify the secret killings of Americans. There are an unknown number of additional legal memos that the ACLU is still fighting to see—and it isn't clear that all of the redactions in the just-released memo are legitimate. Among other things, Americans are still deprived of the evidence Obama used to determine that al-Awlaki was in fact a terrorist, that he posed an "imminent" threat, and that he couldn't be captured. One need only reflect on the number of times the federal government has unjustly consigned innocent men to decades in prison to see the importance of subjecting evidence of this sort to the rigorous review that's impossible without disclosure.*