Paul, Dems demand release of drone docs

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump creates new headaches for GOP with top intelligence pick Congress set for clash over surveillance reforms Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony MORE is joining three Democrats in urging a federal court to release secret documents about the government’s use of drones to kill three Americans.

Along with Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenRussian interference reports rock Capitol Hill McSally unveils bill to lower drug prices amid tough campaign Graham: Trump has 'all the legal authority in the world' to pardon Stone MORE (Ore.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyInterest rate caps are popular — for good reason Overnight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge Democratic senators criticize plan that could expand Arctic oil and gas development MORE (Ore.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenate report says Obama officials were 'not well-postured' to respond to Russian hacking Democratic senators ask banks to prohibit funding Arctic drilling Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle MORE (N.M.), the Kentucky Republican filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Wednesday supporting a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and The New York Times.

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“Shrouding in secrecy the limits of the executive’s authority to target a U.S. citizen for execution without trial runs counter to our democratic principles,” the four senators wrote in their brief to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday.

They added that they are “deeply concerned that the executive branch’s excessive secrecy is ... impeding a healthy debate on an issue of paramount importance: when the government may use drone strikes to kill one of its own citizens without charge or trial.”

In 2012, the Times and the ACLU filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act demanding documents about the Obama administration’s legal basis for killing Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who allegedly served as an operational leader of al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen and directed and influenced attacks from the failed “underwear bomber” plot to the recent massacre at a satirical magazine in Paris.

The 2011 CIA drone strike that killed al-Awlaki in Yemen also killed Samir Khan, another U.S. citizen, who created an online magazine for Islamic extremists. Two weeks later, al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed in another drone strike.

Last year, a federal appeals court ordered the release of a handful of legal memos about the Justice Department’s reasoning, but critics said many crucial portions were redacted. 

That prompted the groups to file a second appeal, asking for additional memos as well as questioning what was redacted the first time around.

“The drone memos should be public,” ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement.

“As the senators rightly point out, the secrecy surrounding the drone program makes it impossible for the public to assess the lawfulness of one of the government’s most controversial national security policies.” 

In 2013, Paul — a likely presidential candidate in 2016 and frequent critic of the government’s secretive justification for the killing of al-Awlaki — launched a 13-hour filibuster to protest the Obama administration’s use of drones. Last year, he tried to block the confirmation of appeals court Judge David Barron, who authored the memo released during the summer.