The Obama administration’s efforts to keep every tiny detail of its actions in the war on terror secret continues to succeed in court and has now been extended even further. A federal judge has ruled that the administration doesn’t even have to reveal the legal basis for the drone strikes it uses so often. You can read the full ruling here. David Kravets has a report at Wired.
The President Barack Obama administration does not have to disclose the legal basis for its drone targeted killing program of Americans, according to a Wednesday decision a judge likened to “Alice in Wonderland”.
U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon of New York, ruling in lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times, said she was caught in a “paradoxical situation” (.pdf) of allowing the administration to claim it was legal to kill enemies outside traditional combat zones while keeping the legal rational secret.
The judge essentially says her hands are tied:
… this court is constrained by law, and under the law, I can only conclude 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; 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.
The administration has acknowledged that there is an Office of Legal Counsel opinion that lays out the reasons the administration thinks it has legal authority to engage in drone strikes but they have made that document classified and refused to release even a redacted version of it. They admit they’re doing it and even praise the program publicly, but they will not say why they can legally do it. Andrew Sullivan, who has defended the use of drones, has it right here:
I’ve defended the drone program as the least worst way of fighting a real enemy, as long as it is restrained and takes extraordinary pains to avoid civilian casualties. But I can see no rationale for the citizenry to be forbidden from knowing the terms on which the president can assassinate one of them. One would think that is a pretty basic principle for the American polity. Was this country founded on resistance to a monarch only to give the power to assassinate an American citizen to one person – with no transparency at all?
Most transparent administration in history, indeed.