Chuck Grassley talks to supporter Allan Frandson in Des Moines, Iowa.
Senator Chuck Grassley dismissed Attorney General Eric Holder's recent legal justification for the targeted killing of U.S. citizens overseas as a "CliffNotes" version of events. REUTERS

The ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee demanded that the White House release documents detailing the Obama administration's legal defense for the targeted killing of U.S. citizens abroad who are believed to be terrorist threats, alleging during a Thursday hearing that the justification recently outlined by Attorney General Eric Holder was a CliffNotes explanation of the situation.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, dismissed Holder's speech at Northwestern University earlier this month, where he notably discussed the legal justification for the U.S. assassination of American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki during a September 2011 drone strike in Yemen.

The Obama administration has come under fire for refusing to release a U.S. Justice Department memo that reportedly outlined why using lethal force against al-Awlaki, the alleged leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was legal. Holder did not specifically mention al-Awlaki during his speech at Northwestern; instead, the attorney general argued that the targeted killing of suspected terrorist operatives overseas is legal under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, a joint congressional resolution passed shortly after the September 2011 terrorist attacks.

Use Of Force Provision

The law allows the president to authorize the use of all necessary force to prevent any future acts of terrorism against the U.S., even empowering the commander-in-chief to target both the perpetrators of the attack and individuals who aided or harbored them.

Holder said the determinations to carry out such an attack would be subject to congressional oversight, a point Grassley scoffed at during an executive meeting of the Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

If the attorney general is going to justify targeted killings based upon 'robust' congressional oversight, he needs to follow through and make these documents available to Congress, not just give us the 'CliffsNotes' in a speech to law students, Grassley said, according to a report from The Hill.

Grassley also said he asked for a complete analysis of the Obama administration's legal justification to carry out such attacks in October, and has yet to receive it, a move he called another example of the continued failure of this administration to live up its goal of being the most transparent administration ever.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has also requested such an analysis, Grassley said.

The Obama administration has refused to confirm or deny the existence of the Justice Department memo in question. However, an October New York Times investigation revealed the secret document was penned sometime in June 2010. Individuals with knowledge of its content told the newspaper the memo concluded al-Awlaki could legally be killed if it was not feasible to capture him alive because he was allegedly making direct terrorist threats against the U.S.

While speaking at Northwestern, Holder said U.S. citizenship does not necessarily entitle a suspected terrorist to a trial or court review, arguing that due process and judicial process are not one and the same when national security operations are at stake.

The targeted killing of a U.S. citizen without trail has resulted in an outcry from civil liberties groups that warn it could set a dangerous precedent that potentially threatens the constitutionally-protected rights -- particularly, the right to due process -- of all Americans. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times have filed lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act demanding the the Justice Department release the disputed memo and provide accurate information about the government's targeted killing policy.