U.S. Judge Denies Access to Terrorist-Related Documents

4 January 2013

A U.S. federal judge has ruled that the federal government does not need to disclose internal legal opinions and other documents justifying the use of drones to kill suspected terrorist operatives abroad.

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon in a 68-page opinion issued Jan. 2 largely rejected suits brought by the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union, while suggesting that release of the material would serve a valuable purpose. The suits sought to compel the release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Appeals are expected.

McMahon said disclosure of the administration’s legal rationale “would allow for intelligent discussion and assessment of a tactic that (like torture before it) remains hotly debated.” She also commented, “There are indeed legitimate reasons, historical and legal, to question the legality of killings unilaterally authorized by the Executive that take place otherwise than on a ‘hot’ field of battle.”

“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. 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 reason for their conclusion a secret,” wrote McMahon.

The ACLU said, “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.”

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