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White House To Release Secret Memo On Drone Strikes

The White House will reportedly comply with a court order to release a secret memorandum describing the legal justification for the 2011 drone strike against three Americans in Yemen, including Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader born in the U.S.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports that "the document had become a stumbling block in the judicial nomination of the man who wrote it" — Justice Department lawyer David Barron.

The Associated Press and Reuters say that the Justice Department has decided not to appeal a ruling requiring that a redacted copy of the memo be turned over under the Freedom of Information Act request.

Reuters quotes an unnamed official as saying that "while the legal analysis that justifies the use of drones will be disclosed, some facts will still be excluded from the document."

The decision comes as the Senate is set to vote Wednesday on advancing Barron's nomination to sit on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

The AP writes that "Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., had vowed to fight Barron's confirmation, and some Democratic senators were calling for the memo's public release before a final vote."

Scott says that the memo "makes the case that President Obama was justified in ordering the targeted killing" of al-Awlaki in 2011.

"Obama has said such a strike would not be legal on U.S. soil, but was justified because al-Awlaki had gone abroad to wage war against America and was actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens."

Al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico, educated in Colorado and spent several years as a cleric in San Diego and later at Falls Church, Va., before becoming a propagandist for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, an affiliate based in Yemen.

As we reported at the time he was targeted: "The 9/11 Commission's report released in 2004 indicated that al-Awlaki had met two of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers at the Virginia mosque, but the nature of those contacts is unclear.

"In 2002, Awlaki left the U.S. and spent time in London before arriving back in Yemen two years later, where he continued to distribute lectures and sermons over his now-defunct website, including one entitled 'The 44 Ways To Support Jihad.'

"Al-Awlaki was considered a master propagandist for al-Qaida who helped shape the network's Yemeni-based affiliate into what American officials described as the most significant threat to the U.S. homeland."

The cleric's grandson and another American were also killed in the 2011 drone strike.

In April, the White House agreed to let Senators read the memo but still did not want to release it publicly.

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