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Federal appeals court orders release of targeted killings memo

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] on Monday ordered [opinion, PDF] the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] to turn over a memorandum detailing the legal justification for the US government's targeted killing program. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] brought the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [DOJ backgrounder] challenge along with the New York Times and two reporters, Charlie Savage and Scott Shane. Ruling for the plaintiffs, the three-judge panel unanimously found that the DOJ could not keep the memo secret because the agency had made public statements defending the targeted killing program: "Whatever 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 ACLU welcomed the ruling [press release] as "a resounding rejection of the government’s effort to use secrecy and selective disclosure to manipulate public opinion about the targeted killing program."

US-born radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was killed in a US drone strike [JURIST report] in Yemen in September 2011. The strike that killed al-Awlaki raised questions about the legality of the US ordering the targeted killing of American citizens. The Times filed its FOIA lawsuit in December 2011, and the ACLU filed suit [JURIST reports] in February 2012. Monday's ruling reverses a January 2013 decision by Judge Colleen McMahon of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

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