Federal judge: Obama admin never has to explain legal basis for drone assassinations of Americans

By End the Lie

An Air Force Reaper drone on patrol over Afghanistan (Image credit: USAF)

An Air Force Reaper drone on patrol over Afghanistan (Image credit: USAF)

In a tragic yet wholly unsurprising ruling, a federal judge in Manhattan refused to force the U.S. Department of Justice to reveal the memorandum outlining the supposed legal justification for the assassination of Americans, a ruling which the judge called “Alice-in-Wonderland [in] nature.”

The insane ruling means that the government never has to explain why it is legal to kill Americans while continuing to claim it is legal to do so, all using the excuse of secrecy in the name of maintaining national security.

“A Justice Department spokesman said officials were reviewing the ruling,” according to Josh Gerstein, and that appears to be all the information available from the Department of Justice thus far.

Considering the fact that Obama’s public statements on drones have been “total baloney” according to experts, I doubt that we’ll see anything any better from the courts which continually kowtow to the Obama administration or the Department of Justice which refused to file criminal charges over deaths of CIA detainees.

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon of New York admitted that she was in a “paradoxical situation” in the ruling issued to both The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ruling covered what McMahon called “an extensive public relations campaign” by a variety of government officials about the supposed legal justifications for the killing of Americans and others. McMahon focused on the speech by Attorney General Eric Holder in which he claimed the secret reviews of classified evidence count as due process.

The paradoxical situation of the ruling was put well by David Kravets who writes McMahon is “allowing the administration to claim it was legal to kill enemies outside traditional combat zones while keeping the legal rational secret.”

Indeed, McMahon confirmed that “the government has not violated FOIA by refusing to turn over the documents sought in the FOIA requests, and so cannot be compelled by this court of law to explain in detail the reasons why its actions do not violate the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

“The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me,” McMahon continued, “but after careful and extensive consideration, I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules — a veritable catch-22.”

“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,” ruled McMahon.

However, both the ACLU and The New York Times are not giving up after the defeat.

“We began this litigation because we believed our readers deserved to know more about the U.S. government’s legal position on the use of targeted killings against persons having ties to terrorism, including U.S. citizens,” said David McCraw in The Times.

“Judge McMahon’s decision speaks eloquently and at length to the serious legal questions raised by the targeted-killing program and to why in a democracy the government should be addressing those questions openly and fully,” said McCraw.

Yet obviously McMahon’s decision fell far short of the mark in that it didn’t actually hold the Obama administration responsible for their actions.

“This ruling denies the public access to crucial information about the government’s extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizens and also effectively greenlights its practice of making selective and self-serving disclosures,” said Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU lawyer.

Indeed even McMahon noted that the Obama administration’s public statements on the program were “cryptic and imprecise,” although she used this to claim that they “were thus insufficient to overcome exemptions in the freedom of information law for classified materials and internal government deliberations,” according to The Times.

Interestingly, McMahon admitted she had not even read the withheld documents and instead opted to claim that the memorandum prepared by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel must contain detailed analysis “unless the standards at O.L.C. have slipped dramatically.”

The only information available on the memo comes from secondary sources who had allegedly read it, as reported by The Times. In other words, we have no clue what it really says and McMahon does not either.

“More fulsome disclosure of the legal reasoning on which the administration relies to justify the targeted killing of individuals, including United States citizens, far from any recognizable ‘hot’ field of battle, would allow for intelligent discussion and assessment of a tactic that (like torture before it) remains hotly debated,” wrote McMahon.

Reuters reports that McMahon “appeared reluctant to rule as she did,” although that isn’t quite evident from the ruling.

In an attempt to show that McMahon was “reluctant” Reuters points to her writing that disclosure of the actual legal justification would help the American people 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.”

In February of 2012 I wrote of the lawsuit, “Hopefully the ACLU will be able to make some progress with this lawsuit, but I seriously doubt anything will happen given the fact that the courts have become a tool of the executive and the entire system of checks and balances has been all but openly eradicated from the American political system entirely.” Unfortunately it seems I was right.

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One Response to Federal judge: Obama admin never has to explain legal basis for drone assassinations of Americans

  1. Anonymous January 4, 2013 at 10:06 PM

    fake government. no longer legitimate. welcome to the ussa

    Reply

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