US Congress to see memo backing drone attacks on Americans

The White House on Wednesday directed the Justice Department to release to the two Congressional Intelligence Committees classified documents discussing the legal justification for killing, by drone strikes and other means, American citizens abroad who are considered terrorists.

The White House announcement appears to refer to a long, detailed 2010 memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel justifying the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who had joined al-Qaeda in Yemen. He was killed in a CIA drone strike in September 2011. Members of Congress have long demanded access to the legal memorandum.

The decision to release the legal memo to the Intelligence Committees came under pressure, two days after 11 senators joined a growing chorus asking for more information about the legal justification for targeted killings, especially Americans.

The announcement also came on eve of confirmation hearing scheduled Thursday afternoon for John O Brennan, President Obama's choice to be director of the CIA, who has been the chief architect of the drone programme as Obama's counter-terrorism adviser.

Administration officials said Obama had decided to take the action, which they described as extraordinary.

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