Judge Upholds Obama Administration’s Withholding of Targeted Killing Data

A lawsuit brought against the government by the American Civil Liberties Union was decided in the Obama administration’s favor Wednesday.

The ACLU filed suit after the White House denied a FOIA request they filed with two New York Times reporters seeking any documents pertaining to justifications for the classified “targeted killing” program.

The Obama administration said even acknowledging such documents’ existence threatened national security, and a federal judge agreed that the government can’t be compelled to turn over the requested materials.

(scroll down to see the an ACLU press release following the ruling)

“I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules — a veritable Catch-22,” U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon wrote, according to The Wall Street Journal. “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”


ACLU Will Appeal Ruling

CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – A federal court today dismissed most of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking records about the government’s targeted killing of three American citizens in Yemen in 2011: Anwar Al-Awlaki and Samir Khan in September, and Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman in October.

The ACLU plans to appeal the decision.

“This ruling denies the public access to crucial information about the government’s extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizens and also effectively green-lights its practice of making selective and self-serving disclosures,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. “As the judge acknowledges, the targeted killing program raises profound questions about the appropriate limits on government power in our constitutional democracy. The public has a right to know more about the circumstances in which the government believes it can lawfully kill people, including U.S. citizens, who are far from any battlefield and have never been charged with a crime.”

The ACLU’s FOIA request seeks disclosure of the legal memorandum written by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provided justifications for the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, as well as records describing the legal and factual basis for the killings. The New York Times submitted a similar but narrower FOIA request, and the two resulting lawsuits filed in the Southern District of New York were combined. The government argued that the requested documents cannot be released, despite the fact that government officials have talked publicly on numerous occasions about al-Awlaki’s killing and the targeted killing program in general.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is currently considering another ACLU FOIA lawsuit seeking other information on the targeted killing program, including its legal basis, scope, and number of civilian casualties caused by drone strikes. The court heard oral argument in September.

The ACLU, together with the Center for Constitutional Rights, has also filed a lawsuit directly challenging the constitutionality of these targeted killings. The government has argued that case should also be dismissed.

Today’s opinion is at: www.aclu.org/national-security/anwar-al-awlaki-foia-request-district-court-opinion

More information on this case is at: www.aclu.org/national-security/anwar-al-awlaki-foia-request

Information on other ACLU litigation on targeted killing is at: www.aclu.org/national-security/targeted-killings