Judge's Reluctant Ruling: Awlaki Memo to Stay Secret

Classified document outlined the legal justification for targeted killing

By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 3, 2013 6:10 AM CST

(Newser) – The Justice Department can keep secret the classified memo that gave the legal go-ahead to kill US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, ruled a federal judge yesterday—with reluctance. The New York Times, which itself filed the lawsuit seeking access to the memo under the Freedom of Information Act, shares portions of Judge Colleen McMahon's grudging ruling. She wrote:

  • "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."

Lawyers for the New York Times and ACLU, which filed a larger request that was quashed by the ruling, plan to appeal. They had argued that because the government made so many public comments about the killings, it effectively relinquished the right to keep the legal basis for those killings secret. But McMahon called the administration's remarks "cryptic and imprecise," and found that they therefore didn't provide grounds for the memo's release. Still, she pushed for "more fulsome disclosure of the legal reasoning," writing that it "would allow for intelligent discussion and assessment of a tactic that (like torture before it) remains hotly debated."

In this Monday, Nov. 8, 2010 file photo taken from video and released by SITE Intelligence Group, Anwar al-Awlaki speaks in a video message posted on radical websites.
In this Monday, Nov. 8, 2010 file photo taken from video and released by SITE Intelligence Group, Anwar al-Awlaki speaks in a video message posted on radical websites.   (AP Photo/SITE Intelligence Group, Dile)
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