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Obama Release of Classified Documents About Drones' Targets



A top administration official says President Barack Obama has ordered the Justice Department to turn over classified legal documents justifying drone strikes on U.S. citizens overseas suspected of terrorism.

The official says the the papers will be handed over to two Congressional intelligence committees.

Eleven U.S. senators had demanded to see the legal opinions after a leaked Justice Department memo Tuesday broadened the rationale for targeting alleged terrorists.

The administration has previously justified such attacks if a terrorist strike is believed to be imminent. But the leaked memo says an American citizen may also be targeted for death for being part of an ongoing terror plot, and when officials determine that capturing a suspect is not possible.

Some U.S. lawmakers, legal experts and civil libertarians criticize the policy as condemning an American citizen without a fair trial.

The Obama administration has defended the policy since two separate strikes by unmanned aircraft killed three U.S. citizens in Yemen in 2011.

Senators are expected to question John Brennan, President Obama's choice to head the CIA, about the drone policy during his confirmation hearing Thursday.

Brennan is currently Mr. Obama's top counterterrorism advisor and a strong supporter of the administration's anti-terror policies. He says the way in which U.S. forces use unmanned aircraft abroad are legal, ethical and highly effective. President Obama has said Brennan's counterterrorism work has made it harder for al-Qaida to plan attacks against the United States.



Brennan worked for the Central Intelligence Agency before taking up his current White House post. During his time as chief of the CIA team in Saudi Arabia, he is believed to have played a pivotal role in negotiations with Saudi leaders that produced an agreement for a base for U.S. unmanned aircraft in the kingdom.

Saudi-based drone aircraft have hunted down al-Qaida terrorists in neighboring Yemen.

Critics say such attacks too often lead to the deaths of innocent civilians, and they contend such tactics are immoral. Pakistan says it never gave blanket agreement for U.S. airstrikes on its territory, and it has strongly criticized the use of U.S. drones.

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