City Bar Seeks Transparency on Targeted Killings

The New York City Bar Association has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder requesting information and clarification on the government’s position on the law governing targeted killings. “Specifically,” states the letter signed by City Bar President Samuel W. Seymour, “we request that you release to the public any memoranda of law delivered by the Office of Legal Counsel (“OLC”) that relates to this issue and the death of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. The authority of our government to kill individuals, especially U.S. citizens, away from an active theater of traditional warfare and without a trial or other public evidence of due process, raises many important questions. In addition to Constitutional and statutory concerns, it portends global implications that may undermine humanity’s general assumptions about the security of life under the law, even in wartime.” In support of its request, the letter references a report by 19 former OLC lawyers who wrote, “OLC should follow a presumption in favor of timely publication of its written legal opinions. Such disclosure helps to ensure executive branch adherence to the rule of law and guard against excessive claims of executive authority. Transparency also promotes confidence in the lawfulness of governmental action.” However, to date, the City Bar’s letter states, “the Administration has not offered a thorough and transparent legal analysis – the likes of which are critical for the meaningful development of the law at home and around the world.” Citing a March 25, 2010 address by State Department legal adviser Harold Koh in which he articulated “a commitment to living our values by respecting the rule of law,” the letter concludes, “The decision to kill an American citizen away from an active theater of traditional warfare deserves the transparency necessary to demonstrate that commitment.” Copies of the letter were also sent to President Barack Obama; Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, Jr.; Defense Department General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson; State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh; and Assistant Attorney General Virginia A. Seitz. The letter may be read here: