WASHINGTON — The Justice Department will publicly release a secret 2011 memo that provided the legal justification for the killing of American terrorist suspects overseas, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing an unnamed U.S. official.
The department had been weighing whether to appeal a court order to disclose the memo but informed the White House on Tuesday that it would not, the official said. The decision came on the eve of a Senate vote on President Barack Obama's nomination of one of the memo's authors, David Barron, to a federal appeals court judgeship.
A group of liberal and conservative senators had said they would fight the nomination unless the memo was made public, and others from both parties had called for its release. The White House allowed lawmakers to view copies of the memo last week in a secure Senate room.
The administration last year acknowledged that drones had killed four U.S. citizens in Yemen, including cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was targeted by a CIA drone attack in 2011. Obama called Awlaki the head of foreign operations for Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
A federal court ruled early this year that the CIA, the Defense Department and the Justice Department did not have to respond to Freedom of Information requests for documents related to drone killings in general, and more specifically the targeted killings of U.S. citizens. That decision was overturned April 21 by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
The government had 45 days in which to ask the appeals panel to review the case anew. The administration official, who spoke to the Washington Post on condition of anonymity about the still unannounced decision, said that the redacted memo would likely be released in a matter of weeks.