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Paul, Dems demand release of drone docs

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official 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 WydenHillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury MORE (Ore.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyBiden signs executive order invoking 2-year lobbying ban for appointees K Street navigates virtual inauguration week Senate Democrats make democracy reform first bill of new majority MORE (Ore.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichBiden Intel chief nominee Avril Haines pledges public report on QAnon threat Overnight Defense: Trump impeached for second time | National Guard at Capitol now armed, swelling to 20K troops for inauguration | Alabama chosen for Space Command home Space Command to be located in Alabama 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.