THE REPORT comes from Politico’s Josh Gerstein:
The U.S. Government has no legal duty to disclose legal opinions justifying the use of drones to kill suspected terrorist operatives abroad, although doing so would contribute to “intelligent” public debate over the legality of that practice, a federal judge wrote in a ruling issued Wednesday.
In her decision, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon largely rejected lawsuits brought by the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union seeking to use the Freedom of Information Act to make public more details about the legal basis for the drone programs.
“There are indeed legitimate reasons, historical and legal, to question the legality of killings unilaterally authorized by the Executive that take place otherwise than on a ‘hot’ field of battle,” McMahon wrote in a 68-page public opinion filed along with a secret, classified appendix. She cited the Constitution’s guarantee of “due process,” the Constitutional provision regarding treason and a specific criminal statute that prohibits any American from killing another American abroad.
…The Times and the ACLU had argued that public statements from President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and other officials provided enough detail about the legal basis for the program that the underlying documents should also be released. McMahon disagreed. However, in so doing, she seemed to be tacitly criticizing the administration by describing those remarks as “vague and imprecise.”
… McMahon, a Clinton appointee, also said the law prohibited her from disputing executive branch officials’ contention that many of the relevant documents were classified. “It is beyond the power of this Court to conclude that a document has been improperly classified,” she wrote.