A federal judge on Wednesday rejected The New York Times‘ bid to force the US government to disclose more information about its drone war, a targeted killing program that kills suspects without charge or trial, even American citizens.
US District Judge Colleen McMahon in Manhattan upheld the Obama administration’s ability to throw out legal cases by claiming disclosures would harm national security, a tactic called state secrets privileges which was pioneered by the Bush administration.
In her statement, McMahon appeared reluctant in her ruling, noting that such disclosures could help the public understand the “vast and seemingly ever-growing exercise in which we have been engaged for well over a decade, at great cost in lives, treasure, and (at least in the minds of some) personal liberty.”
“I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret,” she wrote.
“The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me,” McMahon said, referring to the nightmarish wonderland in which people are sentenced to death before a verdict from a jury is in.
The Obama administration has continued its dramatic increase in the use of armed drones to target and kill mostly unnamed people, primarily in Yemen and Pakistan. When a high-profile terrorist suspect is killed, the Obama administration openly discusses the success of the drone program. But when journalists and civil liberties groups ask tough, scrutinizing questions about the legality of the program, the administration gets away with ignoring their requests for information, claiming the program is secret.
McMahon also ruled against a parallel lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had argued in appeals court that if administration officials get to selectively talk about the drone war in speeches and to reporters, it can’t then turn around and say the program is too secret to comply with FOIA requests.
“The public has a right to know more about the circumstances in which the government believes it can lawfully kill people, including U.S. citizens, who are far from any battlefield and have never been charged with a crime,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, said in a statement.
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