The legal request for the memo came about after the 2011 deaths of three U.S. citizens in Yemen by drone strikes.
Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed in September 2011 while al-Awlaki’s son, Abdulrahman, was killed in October of the same year. All three of those killed were naturalized U.S. citizens or born as such, as stated by the memo, but were also suspected of aiding al-Qaeda.
The Authorization to use Military Force law, signed days after Sept. 11, 2001, is used largely in defense of the killing of the three without a trial.
The memo states, “the [2001 AUMF] authorizes the military detention of a U.S. citizen captured abroad who is part of an armed force within the scope of the AUMF, it also authorizes the use of ‘necessary and appropriate’ lethal force against a U.S. citizen who has joined such an armed force.”
Therefore, the government seems to believe the status of a person as an enemy combatant supersedes any previously held status by the individual as an American citizen, according to the precedents set within the memo.
Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, told the Washington Post, “The release of this memo represents an overdue but nonetheless crucial step towards transparency.”
The most outspoken members of Congress with regards to civil liberties, Democratic senators Ron Wyden of Oregon, Mark Udall of Colorado, and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, have come out in support of the killing of the three however.
“The decision to use lethal force against Anwar al-Alwaki,” wrote the three in a letter according to MSNBC, “was a legitimate use of authority granted to the president.”