Appeals Court Orders Release of 'Targeted Killing' Memo

A federal appeals court on Monday morning is demanding that the Obama administration disclose their legal justification for the targeted drone killing program.

Reversing a lower court ruling in The New York Times Company v. United States, a three-judge panel on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered the release of portions of a classified Justice Department memo that provided the legal justification for the targeted drone killing of United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.

“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,” said Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director, who argued the case before the panel in October.

“The government can’t legitimately claim that everything about the targeted killing program is a classified secret while senior officials selectively disclose information meant to paint the program in the most favorable light,” Jaffer continued. “The public has a right to know why the administration believes it can carry out targeted killings of American citizens who are located far away from any conventional battlefield.”

The issues in this ruling “assume added importance because the information sought concerns targeted killings of United States citizens carried out by drone aircraft,” wrote Circuit Judge Jon O. Newman in the ruling.

The panel argued that the government had waived its right to keep their legal memo secret following public statements by officials and the Justice Department’s release of a “white paper” to Congress explaining their legal rationale.