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Judge: NYT Cannot Force Govt. to Release Info on Drone Strikes

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by Publius
Posted January 02, 2013, 6:31 PM

According to Reuters:

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected The New York Times' bid to force the U.S. government to disclose more information about its targeted killing of people it believes have ties to terrorism, including American citizens.

U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in Manhattan said the Obama administration did not violate the law by refusing the Times' request for the legal justifications for targeted killings, a strategy the Times said was first contemplated by the Bush administration soon after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

McMahon appeared reluctant to rule as she did, noting in her decision that disclosure could help the public understand the "vast and seemingly ever-growing exercise in which we have been engaged for well over a decade, at great cost in lives, treasure, and (at least in the minds of some) personal liberty."

Nonetheless, she said the government was not obligated to turn over materials the Times had sought under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), even though it had such materials in its possession.

"The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me," McMahon said in her 68-page decision.

The newspaper and two reporters, Charlie Savage and Scott Shane, had sued the government for details about the government's drone program, including the late 2011 killings of U.S. citizens Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman in separate strikes in Yemen.

Civil liberties groups have attacked the drone program, which deploys pilotless aircraft, as in effect a green light for the government to kill Americans without constitutionally required due process. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has rejected that contention.

Among the materials sought by the Times was a memorandum that the newspaper had in early October 2011 reported had been prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel. The Times cited people who had read the document.

The Times said this memorandum had authorized the "legal targeting" of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Muslim cleric who joined al Qaeda's Yemen affiliate and directed many attacks.

 

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