Federal appeals court rejects ACLU request for drone documents

Federal appeals court rejects ACLU request for drone documents

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] on Tuesday rejected [opinion, PDF] a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [official website] request from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] for information about the US government’s use of drones for “targeted killings.” A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled last year that the government had to turn over seven of the 59 requested documents, and the government and ACLU both appealed. The appeals court ruled for the government Tuesday that all of the requested documents could be kept secret:

Chief Judge McMahon ably performed the burdensome task of examining scores of documents in this protracted litigation, which now appears to be concluded. Despite our slight disagreement with her assessment of a few of these documents, we appreciate her diligence and the helpful explanations in her sealed opinion. On ACLU’s appeal, the judgment is affirmed; on the Government’s cross-appeal, the judgment is reversed; the case is remanded for entry of a revised judgment.

An ACLU attorney called the decision [New York Daily News report] “an extremely narrow opinion” involving “a small set of documents.”

The use of drones [JURIST backgrounder] is controversial in both domestic circles and in the international arena. In April the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] upheld [JURIST report] a district court’s dismissal of an ACLU request for information about drone killings. In January the Second Circuit ruled that the president’s National Security Council (NSC) [official website] is not subject [JURIST report] to FOIA. In November of last year the circuit also ruled that the US government may keep secret memoranda [JURIST report] related to the legal justification for the use of drones for targeted killings of those in other countries believed to be involved in terrorism. The case was the result of FOIA requests by the ACLU and the New York Times [media website] for documents prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel of the US Department of Justice [official website] regarding the drone strikes. In June 2015 the families of two Yemeni men killed by US drone strikes filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against the government, claiming they were wrongfully killed. In December 2010 a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging the Obama administration’s ability to conduct targeted killings, a challenge spurred because one subject of a targeted killing, al-Awlaki-Khan, was a dual US-Yemeni citizen.