Better late than never, the American public has been provided with a redacted version of a
The basic legal rationale for targeting Awlaki has long been known. In fact, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the memo's release precisely because so much of the argument has seeped into the public domain as the result of speeches by administration officials and the publication last year of a 16-page "white paper." Still, the release of the actual 2010 memo prepared by Justice Department official David Barron (now a federal judge) is an important, if overdue, exercise in transparency.
Is the memo persuasive? Only to a limited degree. It plausibly concludes that, under the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by
Then there is the question of whether the government should try to capture a U.S. citizen suspected of terrorism instead of killing him. The Barron memo approves of assassination when capture is not impossible but merely "infeasible." That is too vague a standard.
The version of the memo released by the appeals court Monday is missing several pages that apparently contain evidence that Awlaki had ceased being merely a propagandist for Al Qaeda and had participated in planning attacks. Now as before the release of the memo, Americans must take it on faith that Awlaki had to be killed.