Appeals Court Rules Government Can't Have It Both Ways on Targeted Killing

In an important opinion issued today in the ACLU's ongoing litigation surrounding the government's targeted killing program, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit roundly rejected the government's extreme claims of official secrecy over information about the program. In ordering the release of a 2010 legal memorandum by the Office of Legal Counsel analyzing the potential targeted killing of an American citizen, as well as other information about records the government has previously refused to describe at all, the Second Circuit became the first court to order the release of a document related to the government's targeted killing program. It also became the second federal appeals court in the last 13 months to hold that the government has pushed its secrecy claims surrounding the targeted killing program past their breaking point.

In today's opinion, the Second Circuit panel held that the government's repeated public assurances that the targeted killing program is lawful, and its disclosure of a "white paper" that summarized its legal conclusions, had waived its right under the Freedom of Information Act to keep secret its legal analysis authorizing the killing of U.S. citizens. This is a victory for common sense, and a reminder that the courts have an important role to play in scrutinizing government claims about national security. As the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer, who argued the case before the Second Circuit panel in October 2013, said today, "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."

In January 2013, the district court agreed with the government that it could keep secret all of its documents related to the targeted killing program. But even as it denied the ACLU's claims, the district court expressed extreme misgivings about the result, referencing Alice in Wonderland before writing:

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 reasons for their conclusion a secret.

Today's ruling from the appeals court reversed that decision, ruling that the government itself had effectively made that thicket irrelevant by officially disclosing information about the program and its legal basis. The panel concluded that "[w]hatever protection the legal analysis might once have had has been lost by virtue of public statements of public officials at the highest levels and official disclosure of the DOJ White Paper." The panel sent the case back to the district court, where the government will have to defend its withholdings of many specific documents that it has thus far refused to publicly describe in any way. (The memorandum itself will remain under seal as the government contemplates its options to appeal the ruling to the entire Second Circuit or, perhaps, to seek review by the Supreme Court.)

In the bigger picture, it is clear that the ACLU's efforts to remove the veil of secrecy surrounding the government's targeted killing program are paying off. In March 2013, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the CIA could no longer hide behind a so-called "Glomar" response to information requests about targeted killing by refusing to confirm or deny whether it held records about the program. In that opinion, the D.C. Circuit ruled that the courts would no longer "give their imprimatur to a fiction of deniability that no reasonable person would regard as plausible." Today's opinion from the Second Circuit is cut from the same cloth, affirming the public's right to understand and evaluate the government's defense of its killing program for itself.

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from Richard, V...

Although why the hell anyone would want to read such grisly information has been, is and always will be beyond my ability to understand. It's like perusing an autopsy, reading about the pain and suffering and/or death of human beings by violent means.

When I was in Nam one of my duties was to obtain information from the enemy about their operations so our side could plan according to the data I brought them (I was an Intelligence Officer.)
Unfortunately, a good number of people we thought we were "protecting from the NVA," IOW the SVA, were not as 'friendly' as they acted and would run interference on the information, which is how some of the ambushes on American soldiers were able to occur. And of course, the enemy's side also had officers like myself, except they were gathering information against us.
The whole situation was decidedly unpleasant, as is this situation between the U.S and Islamic extremists. But continued violence has never helped two countries or groups of people understand each other.

Hate never ends through hatred
by non-hate alone will it end
Choose love. It's the only chance we have to survive in this world.
I realize how ideal that sounds, but if someone doesn't start somewhere nobody will start anywhere at all.
I choose tolerance and hope more people will join me in that option.

Vicki B.

I have a feeling that President Obama ISN'T the only one responsible for this program. After all, they wouldn't give a president full charge of a program without applying the checks and balances, a good number of which include RePUBLIcan politicians.
Everyone thinks that President Obama is the ONLY one who gets all the blame, but if it bothered so many people in the House and Senate, wouldn't they DO something about it? Or at least make their feelings known the way Bernie Sanders did after he found out the NSA was collecting information on every single person in the nation. He spoke up, but I don't hear any of his colleagues saying anything.
I think there's no way you can lay this all on one person. It's like the book I read about the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam and the author of the book said we had to take "collective responsibility" for what happened. Only I disagreed in that case. I had nothing to do with My Lai or Vietnam. I wasn't born until the war was almost ended and was a toddler all through the ending years of Vietnam.
With THIS OTOH, I think everyone who makes rules in the government has to take responsibility. If enough people were against it, they should speak up or take action to stop it, the way Bernie Sanders did when he helped devise the Freedom Act to replace the Patriot Act.

Attainder

Bill of Attainder = NDAA
Letters Marque and Reprisal = NDAA
Declaration of Public Moneys for Private War (aka "feud") = NDAA

Al Queda Website "Inspire" is located in Turkey, NATO ally

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