A federal appeals court has ruled that the Obama administration can continue to conceal memos related to the individuals on a list of “suspected terrorists” who are targeted and killed by the United States.
The document, which was unsealed on Monday after a decision was reached last month, was handed down by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the memos by the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The panel consisted of Judges Jon O. Newman, José A. Cabranes and Rosemary S. Pooler. They unanimously ruled that the U.S. government has the right to classify approximately 10 documents detailing targeted killing operations against non-American citizens outside of the U.S.
“We emphasize at the outset that the lawfulness of drone strikes is not at issue,” Judge Newman wrote. “This appeal, like the prior one, primarily concerns whether documents considering such lawfulness must be disclosed.”
Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for the ACLU, told the New York Times the union strongly disagrees with the idea that “crucial legal memos can lawfully be kept secret.”
“In a democracy, there should be no room for ‘secret law,’ and the courts should not play a role in perpetuating it,” Jaffer said. “The government should not be using lethal force based on standards that are explained only vaguely and on facts that are never published or independently reviewed.”
In October, a series of leaked documents gave insight into the inner workings of Obama’s drone program in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. The documents claimed that from January 2012 to February 2013, as a part of the campaign Operation Haymaker in Afghanistan, “U.S. special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people,” but only “35 were the intended targets.”
The documents also noted that during a five-month period of the same operation, “nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.”
While a FOIA lawsuit forced the Obama administration to reveal a secret memo in 2014 that authorized the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011, the new ruling makes it unlikely that the lawsuit will produce additional information.