Obama Ordered To Divulge Legal Basis For Killing Americans With Drones

Posted by on April 22, 2014 in Military with 0 Comments

Source: arstechnica.com

Appeals court will have the veil of secrecy lifted in targeted killing program.

U.S. Predator Drone (Image credit: doctress neutopia/Flickr)

U.S. Predator Drone (Image credit: doctress neutopia/Flickr)

The Obama administration must disclose the legal basis for targeting Americans with drones, a federal appeals court ruled Monday in overturning a lower court decision likened to “Alice in Wonderland.”

The Second US Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) claim by The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said the administration must disclose the legal rationale behind its claims that it may kill enemies who are Americans overseas.

“This is a resounding rejection of the government’s effort to use secrecy and selective disclosure to manipulate public opinion about the targeted killing program,” ACLU Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said in an e-mail.

The so-called targeted-killing program—in which drones from afar shoot missiles at buildings, cars, and people overseas—began under the George W. Bush administration. The program, which sometimes kills innocent civilians, was broadened under Obama to include the killing of Americans.


Government officials from Obama on down have publicly commented on the program, but they claimed the Office of Legal Counsel’s memo outlining the legal rationale about it was a national security secret. The appeals court, however, said on Monday that officials’ comments about overseas drone attacks means the government has waived its secrecy argument.

“After senior Government officials have assured the public that targeted killings are ‘lawful’ and that OLC advice ‘establishes the legal boundaries within which we can operate,'” the appeals court said, “waiver of secrecy and privilege as to the legal analysis in the Memorandum has occurred” (PDF).

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which in a friend-of-the court brief urged the three-judge appeals court to rule as it did, said the decision was a boon for citizen FOIA requests.

“It’s very helpful. We have a number of cases, including one of our oldest FOIA cases, that involves the warrantless wiretapping memos. The basic premise is when OLC writes a legal memo and when that becomes the known basis for a program, that’s the law of the executive branch and cannot be withheld,” Alan Butler, EPIC’s appellate counsel, said in a telephone interview.

The appeals court said the memo may be redacted from revealing which government agencies are behind the attacks, although former CIA Director Leon Panetta has essentially acknowledged that agency’s role.

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Image credit: doctress neutopia/Flickr

 

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