- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Secret memos detailing the U.S. government’s rationale for using drone strikes to kill foreign terror suspects can stay hidden from public view, a federal appeals court ruled in a decision unsealed on Monday.

The 22-page ruling — dated Oct. 22, but not made public until this week — means the Obama administration can continue to withhold documents that discuss lethal operations taken by the United States against foreign targets.

In publishing its decision, the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit has rejected a second round of Freedom of Information Act requests brought by The New York Times and American Civil Liberties Union against the Pentagon, Justice Department and CIA in hopes of acquiring information on the U.S. government’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles to execute terrorist targets abroad after a 2011 drone strike in Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen and suspected al-Qaeda operative.

The District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in 2014 that the government needn’t unseal nearly a dozen documents sought by the plaintiffs, and a three-person panel from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously agreed in the decision announced this week.

“We emphasize at the outset that the lawfulness of drone strikes is not at issue,” Judge Jon Newman wrote on behalf of the 2nd Circuit, but “… primarily concerns whether documents considering such lawfulness must be disclosed.”

In 2014, the 2nd Circuit agreed to release excerpts of 41-page memo from 2010 concerning targeted drone attacks, but the plaintiffs had asked for further documents to be disclosed by the court.

“We strongly disagree that these crucial legal memos can lawfully be kept secret,” Jameel Jaffer, an attorney for ACLU, said in a statement. “In a democracy, there should be no room for ‘secret law,’ and the courts should not play a role in perpetuating it.”

“The government should not be using lethal force based on standards that are explained only vaguely and on facts that are never published or independently reviewed.”

The Justice Department declined to comment on the decision, The Associated Press and The New York Times reported.


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