From the memo detailing the right to assassinate U.S. citizens worldwide to the paper negotiating the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, the U.S. government has kept many documents classified for dubious reasons. David Wallechinsky of AllGov looks at 11 of them.
1. Obama Memo Allowing the Assassination of U.S. Citizens
When the administration of George W. Bush was confronted with cases of Americans fighting against their own country, it responded in a variety of ways. John Walker Lindh, captured while fighting with the Taliban in December 2001, was indicted by a federal grand jury and sentenced to 20 years in prison. José Padilla was arrested in Chicago in May 2002 and held as an “enemy combatant” until 2006 when he was transferred to civilian authority and, in August 2007, sentenced to 17 years in prison for conspiring to support terrorism. Adam Gadahn, who has made propaganda videos for al-Qaeda, was indicted for treason in 2006 and remains at large.
After he took over the presidency, Barack Obama did away with such traditional legal niceties and decided to just kill some Americans who would previously have been accused of treason or terrorism. His victims have included three American citizens killed in Yemen in 2011 by missiles fired from drones: U.S.-born anti-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, an al-Qaeda propagandist from North Carolina, and Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.
Obama justified his breach of U.S. and international law with a 50-page memorandum prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Attorney General Eric Holder argued that the killing of Awlaki was legal because he was a wartime enemy and he could not be captured, but the legal justification for this argument is impossible to confirm because the Obama administration has refused to release the memo.