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Court Orders Government to Release Secret Drone Assassination Memo

The government has claimed every legal right to kill American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without a trial, but has so far refused to release the actual memo granting permission.

On Monday, a federal appeals court in New York ruled that a redacted version of the document, which has been sought by The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union, ought to come out. According to a report in the Times, the three-judge panel reasoned that the government had already outlined its legal reasoning in a white paper and numerous public statements:

The unanimous three-judge panel, reversing a lower court decision, said the government had waived its right to keep the analysis secret in light of numerous public statements by administration officials and the Justice Department’s release of a “white paper” offering a detailed analysis of why targeted killings were legal.

“Whatever protection the legal analysis might once have had,” Judge Jon O. Newman wrote for the panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, “has been lost by virtue of public statements of public officials at the highest levels and official disclosure of the D.O.J. White Paper.”

It is doubtful that the document’s release will alter the government’s drone assassination program in any significant way, or that we will learn dramatic new details about President Barack Obama’s kill list. However, the ruling is certainly a blow to the government’s abuse of secrecy, which began long before the Obama administration but has only grown more ubiquitous in recent years.

— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

Peter Z. Scheer
Managing Editor
Peter Scheer grew up in the newspaper business, spending family vacations with his mother at newspaper editors' conferences, enjoying daycare in editorial departments and begrudgingly reviewing his father's…
Peter Z. Scheer

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