[JURIST] The New York Times (NYT) [media website] filed a lawsuit [text] against the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Tuesday alleging the government violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] in refusing to release legal memoranda related to targeted killings of terror suspects. The suit relates to 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. The strike that killed al-Awlaki raised questions about the legality of the US ordering the targeted killing of American citizens. The lawsuit contends that the questions surrounding the legality of the US government’s actions in al-Awlaki’s death have led “legal scholars, human rights activists, and current and former government officials … [to call] for the government to disclose its legal analysis justifying the use of targeted lethal force, especially as it applies to American Citizens.” The NYT states that it filed FOIA requests in 2010 but the DOJ refused to release any memoranda or even confirm existence of any such documents related to the legal analysis justifying the killing.
Some information related to the death of al-Awlaki has already leaked to the media. In October an Obama administration legal memorandum from last year [JURIST report] found that the killing of US citizen and senior al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] leader al-Awlaki would only be legal if it were not feasible to take al-Awlaki alive. The secret document written by the DOJ justified the decision [NYT report] to kill al-Awlaki despite an executive order banning assassinations and a federal law against murder. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] criticized the targeted killing as a violation of both US and international law. The US has increased drone strikes in Yemen to try and reduce al Qaeda’s power in the region and minimize the chaos spilling over the border into Saudi Arabia. The strike that killed al-Awlaki marks the US government’s most successful attack against al Qaeda since the raid leading to the death of Osama bin Laden [JURIST report] in Pakistan last May.