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DOJ rejects request for targeted killing information

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Wednesday filed [ACLU press release] a memorandum [text, PDF] on behalf of the Obama administration rejecting a request to reveal information about the targeted killing program against suspected terrorists and US citizens abroad. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST news report] on February under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] demanding the US government release the information at issue. The lawsuit supplemented an earlier suit [JURIST report] in December brought by the New York Times (NYT) [media website] alleging that the government violated FOIA by refusing to release legal memoranda related to targeted killings of terror suspects. Before the due date for an answer, the government, by moving for summary judgment, argued that, although FOIA requires governmental entities to release information to public upon request, there is an exception if the release of information or even the acknowledgement of such would endanger national security. Under such reasoning, the information that the ACLU and news agency are seeking has been deemed to cause harm to national security by "endangering human sources, disrupting intelligence efforts, and harming foreign relations." Additionally, the government argued that the plaintiffs in this case have failed to prove that the government has demonstrated any waiver through official disclosure. Thus, the DOJ argued that the court should dismiss the complaint against the government.

The lawsuits came after the death of the US-born radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] who was killed in a US drone strike [JURIST report] in Yemen in September 2011. A legal memorandum written by the DOJ justified [JURIST report] the decision to kill al-Awlaki despite an executive order banning assassinations and a federal law against murder. The memo was seen as bringing clarity in the legal debate and respond to public criticism over whether the president can order the killing of US citizens abroad as part of a counterterrorism measure. The ACLU had criticized [press release] that the targeted killing violates both US and international law.

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