Is the Release of Secret Drone Memos an Empty Gesture?

The day has come. Sort of—members of two Senate intelligence committees now have "access" to classified memos undergirding the legal justification for killing US citizens abroad in the war on al Qaeda. But is the big reveal merely lip service?

If he and the covert, killer-drone program he's been so instrumental in crafting weren't already facing mounting cricism in Congress, John Brennan, Obama's drone "high priest" and pick to head up the Central Intelligence Agency, is maybe now shitting hellfire.

When they grill Brennan later today during his approval hearing, two Senate intelligence committees will have at their disposal a whole lot more information concerning the targeted killings of US citizens than was available this time yesterday, when the recent leak of a 16-page Department of Justice brief on the rationale behind the drone strikes that took out three US citizens in 2011 was still crushing headlines by offering an initial peek at the letter of American shadow wars. So maybe Obama was just old-fashioned, feeling the heat; maybe, as the admistration is telling it, it was a move to make good on his word that he'd more actively loop Congress into the national-security conversation moving forward into his second term. Whatever it was, the president ordered the release Wedneday evening of classified documents detailing the full legal justification for killing, via drone or other means, US citizens abroad who are suspected of associating with known terrorist organizations.

The release is "extraordinary," administration officials say and will not be precedent setting. As an unnamed official familiar with both the documents and their reveal told the New York Times, members of the intelligence committees have been given "access" to the memos. The official added that this "access"—first spoken about to the press by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) after receiving a call yesterday from Obama himself, who said that "effective immediately" he'd be making "the legal opinions available and he also hoped that there could be a broader conversation”—was given to the committees as a means to better involve Congress in shaping the legal processes for marking specific individuals for death in the ongoing war on al Qaeda and its affiliates.

Which all sounds well and good. In the march of transparency, any peel back, however incremental, is always supposed to be a good and noble endeavor, right? Or in the case of dead US citizens, is it just lip service?

Read the rest over at the new Motherboard.VICE.com.