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Koh: Obama to Disclose Legal Basis for Drone Strikes At Some Point ‘To Come’

It’s not been the greatest week for the Obama administration’s commitment to open government. But Harold Koh, the State Department’s legal adviser, told Shane Harris of National Journal that the administration is open to disclosing the legal underpinnings of one of its most controversial and beloved national security programs: the missile strikes it fires on suspected terrorists from remotely piloted aircraft, principally in Pakistan. Great! When should we expect that disclosure? Oh, at some point.

Harris caught up with Koh at an American Bar Association meeting:

The administration has made drone strikes the centerpiece of its fight against terrorists, but officials have never said why they believe the program complies with international law. A number of legal scholars and international officials have said the killings could violate certain laws of armed conflict, particularly when they’re carried out in countries where the United States is not at war, such as Pakistan and Yemen.

Koh gave no indication of when the administration might unveil its legal rationale or what it might entail. But he added, “You can expect a more detailed discussion of this to come.” Koh was reluctant to reveal specifics, and he said that the informal venue of a speech was not the appropriate setting to discuss the “complicated” issue.

One imagines Koh thinking: “How about the Wednesday after Never? Does that work for you? Schedule clear?”

Meanwhile, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the legal basis for the drone strikes yesterday, so maybe that’ll put a spring in Koh’s step.

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