ACLU to U.S. Government: If You Can Brag About Drone Strike Success, You Can Discuss The Program in Court

Early this month the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, against the Department of Justice and various government and sundry in order to force their release of documents about their secretive program of targeted drone strikes— particularly those focused on such technically-American targets as the late Anwar Al-Awlaki.

Secretive — see, that's the thing about the program. The government keeps saying on the record that they can't even officially acknowledge the program, but unnamed sources do tend to pop up in media reports on the program. And then of course there's the fact that President Obama admitted the program's existence during the recent Google+ "hangout" town-hall thing and again at a press conference. So, it's definitely real and it's definitely killing people and government officials definitely talk about it with varying degrees of secrecy and specificity. Except that the government is still arguing in court that the program is so secret that it cannot be discussed in front of a judge. The ACLU's lawsuit says no, you can't have that both ways.

Their ACLU Blog of Rights today:

In response to the ACLU’s FOIA request, the government refused to confirm or deny whether it has any records about the CIA’s targeted killing program or about a Justice Department memo that provided legal justification for targeting and killing Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen born in New Mexico. Yet the government has the chutzpah to sing the praises of the targeted killing program when it thinks doing so will advance its agenda, while insisting that it can’t talkabout the program in front of a federal judge. To be clear, our complaint is not that the government is disclosing information to the press. Indeed, we wish it would disclose more. Our complaint is simply that the government should not be permitted to declare in court that discussing a program would jeopardize national security when it has disclosed the same program to the public.

The New York Times, by the way, is also suing the U.S. Government over the assassination of Al-Awlaki. They want that justification — something beyond "national security" — as well. 

Reason on drones, the war on terror, and the ACLU

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  • Matt Osborne||

    Once upon a time, it was customary for intelligence agencies to kill the enemy in wartime without asking permission of a judge first. Officially, the United States is at war with al-Qaeda and anyone who harbors, supports, or gives sanctuary to al-Qaeda. As far as the "details" of the program go, the ACLU has no need to know how the CIA is picking targets, and neither does the New York Times. Telling them could endanger sources, i.e. GET PEOPLE KILLED, or endanger methods, i.e. GET PEOPLE KILLED. And until Glenn Greenwald offers a better plan than a drone strike, it's still the most efficient and least-bad way to find and kill the enemy in a "lawless tribal zone." We tried arresting the bad guys before -- it was the Blackhawk Down incident, and it killed hundreds of Somalis. That is NOT better than a drone strike.


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