Just ahead of today’s CIA director confirmation hearing President Obama has ordered the release of memos that were written by his administration to justify the killing of American citizens without due process.

The White House on Wednesday directed the Justice Department to release to the two Congressional Intelligence Committees classified documents discussing the legal justification for the use of drones in targeting American citizens abroad who are considered terrorists.

The White House announcement appears to refer to a long, detailed 2010 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel justifying the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who had joined Al Qaeda in Yemen. He was killed in a C.I.A. drone strike in September 2011. Members of Congress have long demanded access to the legal memorandum.

The move is somewhat cynical in that a presumed act of transparency’s actual purpose is to placate members of Congress in hopes of avoiding scrutiny. Nonetheless the 35 members of the two Congressional committees will finally get to see why the President thinks he can kill Americans outside of constitutional limitations.

Critics noted that in 2009, Mr. Obama had ordered the public release of the classified memos governing C.I.A. interrogations under President George W. Bush and accused the president of hypocrisy. Administration officials replied that the so-called enhanced interrogations had been stopped, while drone strikes continue. Until Wednesday night, the administration had refused to even officially acknowledge the existence of the documents, which have been reported about in the press.

Kind of funny really. The torture program had a chance of staying quiet or at least out of sight – pretending you don’t have a drone strike program is bit more of a challenge when you are bombing places all over the world.

The real audience for this release might actually be one Senator, Ron Wyden who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Wyden has been the most vocal and visible critic of the killing program and plays a crucial role in getting Brennan confirmed.

Mr. Wyden has repeatedly called on the administration to release its legal memorandums laying out what the executive branch believes it has the power to do in national security matters, including the targeted killing of a citizen. Earlier on Wednesday, at a Democratic retreat in Annapolis, Md., he had hinted at a potential filibuster of Mr. Brennan’s nomination by vowing to “pull out all the stops to get the actual legal analysis, because without it, in effect, the administration is, in effect, practicing secret law.”

Did the ploy work? We’ll find out in a few hours. The Brennan CIA Director Confirmation Hearing starts at 2:30 pm EST.

Photo by U.S Air Force under Public Domain