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Obama shares secret drone war info with lawmakers

February 07, 2013 09:24 IST

In an extraordinary action, United States President Barack Obama has decided to share the classified information over "legal advice" authorising the use of drones to kill the American citizens abroad, a senior administration official has said.

"As part of the President's ongoing commitment to consult with Congress on national security matters, the President directed the Department of Justice to provide the Congressional Intelligence committees access to classified Office of Legal Counsel advice related to the subject of the Department of Justice White Paper," an official said on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak on such sensitive matters.

Obama is understood to have personally made this decision on Wednesday because he believes that this scrutiny and debate is healthy and because he wants the US Congress to be a part of his administration's efforts to build a durable legal framework for the country's counter-terrorism efforts. 

Obama's move comes following repeated demand by US lawmakers in this regard.

Earlier during his daily press conference, the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney argued that Obama takes a very serious approach to these matters and has two responsibilities in mind- his absolute responsibility under the Constitution to protect the United States and its citizens and his responsibility of carrying out the first one in consistence with Constitution and its laws and values.

"He (Obama) thinks that it is legitimate to ask questions about how we prosecute the war against Al Qaeda. It is his belief that we need to move forward with more transparency, as well as create, in his words, a legal framework around how these decisions are made, that has led to, unprecedented levels of information provided to the public about how we do this," he said.

"The President fully expects that that process will continue, because these are issues that he believes are very important. It is also his high responsibility to perform that function in a way that is consistent with who we are, our values, and the Constitution, and he believes that it's wholly legitimate to examine these issues and to have conversations about them," he said.

Last year, the US President in an interview had called for putting a legal architecture in place, Carney pointed out.

"One of the things that we've got to do is put a legal architecture in place and we need Congressional help to do that to make sure that not only am I reined in, but any President is reined in, in terms of some of the decisions that we're making," Obama said in an interview on October 18, 2012 during the taping of the Daily Show.

"Now, there are some tough tradeoffs. I mean, there are times where there are bad folks somewhere on the other side of the world, and you've got to make a call and it's not optimal. But when you look at our track record, what we've been able to do is to say we ended the war in Iraq; we're winding down the war in Afghanistan; we've gone after Al Qaeda and its leadership," Obama said.

He, however, said that Al Qaeda is still active in other parts of North Africa and the Middle East, besides maintaining that actions against the terror outfit have to be consistent with international and American laws.

Early this week, a bipartisan group of 11 influential Senators sought from Obama, "legal justification" for counter-terrorism operations or the armed drones to kill American citizens.

"As the Senate considers a number of nominees for senior national security positions, we ask that you ensure that Congress is provided with the secret legal opinions outlining your authority to authorise the killing of Americans in the course of counter-terrorism operations," the Senators wrote.

Prominent among the Senators include Ron Wyden, Mike Lee, Mark Udall, Chuck Grassley, Jeff Merkley, Susan Collins, Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Tom Udall, Mark Begich and Al Franken.

"In our view, if individual Americans choose to take up arms against the United States as part of an opposing fighting force, there will clearly be circumstances in which the President has the authority to use lethal force against those Americans, just as President Lincoln had the authority to direct Union troops to fire upon Confederate forces during the Civil War," the Senators wrote.

"It is vitally important, however, for Congress and the American public to have a full understanding of how the executive branch interprets the limits and boundaries of this authority, so that Congress and the public can decide whether this authority has been properly defined, and whether the President's power to deliberately kill American citizens is subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards," they said.

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