On Thursday at 2:30 PM, Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will vote on whether to send his nomination as director of central intelligence to the Senate floor for consideration. Brennan's appearance before the committee comes during the same week a leaked white paper from the Department of Justice was released by NBC News. That memo, which concerns the Obama administration's justification for targeting senior officials of Al-Qaeda and "associated forces," has stirred a fair amount of controversy.
Predator drone strikes have been the preferred choice of the Obama administration when it comes to attacking individuals that it has deemed national security threats. As Obama's chief counter-terrorism adviser, Brennan is widely regarded as the primary architect of the administration's drone program, which is run by the CIA.
The white paper, which originated in the Office of Legal Counsel, is written in vague and broad terms, and effectively confers upon the executive immense power to unilaterally determine the guilt or innocence of individuals it suspects of being members of Al-Qaeda or affiliated organizations, so that they may be targeted for killing via drone strikes. This include U.S. citizens — three of which have been killed under Obama's drone regime without any judicial process whatsoever.
In September 2011, U.S. citizens Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed in northern Yemen when the vehicle the were traveling in was struck by a Hellfire missile fired from a predator drone. That drone had taken off from a secret drone base in Saudi Arabia — the existence of which was revealed to the public for the first time on Tuesday night, when the New York Times revealed its existence. Although the Times knew about the base, it kept the information hidden from the public.
Awlaki especially had been targeted by the administration, which alleged he was a senior Al-Qaeda figure and propagandist for the terrorist organization.
The White House has never provided any evidence that this was the case — either in court or to the press.
The third U.S. citizen killed by a drone attack was Awlaki's 16 year-old son two weeks after his father died.
Facing pressure from nearly a dozen bipartisan senators, on Wednesday the administration decided to release an two additional classified documents regarding legal justification to the Senate and House intelligence committees.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an administration official described the rationale to the Times:
"[A]s part of the president’s ongoing commitment to consult with Congress on national security matters, the president directed the Department of Justice to provide the Congressional Intelligence Committees access to classified Office of Legal Counsel advice related to the subject of the Department of Justice white paper."