United States District Court Judge Colleen McMahon ruled on Wednesday that the United States Justice Department does not have a legal obligation to explain its rationale behind killing American citizens in targeted drone strikes.
The ACLU and the New York Times both filed a lawsuit because they were refused documents about targeted killings by the Obama administration under the Freedom of Information Act.
“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 75-page ruling.
“The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me;” she continued, “but after careful 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,” she writes. “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 reason for their conclusion a secret.”
In her ruling the judge cites speeches from both Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, in which they discuss the al-Awlaki killings vaguely, but attempt to excuse their behavior with secret explanations.
McMahon quotes Mr. Holder as saying during a March 2012 address at Chicago’s Northwestern University, “The Constitution’s guarantee of due process is ironclad, and it is essential — but, as a recent court decision makes clear, it does not require judicial approval before the President may use force abroad against a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war — even if that individual happens to be a US citizen.”
“Holder did not identify which recent court decisions so held,” the judge replies, “Nor did he explain exactly what process was given to the victims of targeted killings at locations far from ‘hot’ battlefields…”
Though McMahon is clearly troubled by what she is ruling on in favor of the Obama administration, she points out, “As they gathered to draft a Constitution for their newly liberated country, the Founders — fresh from a war of independence from the rule of a King they styled a tyrant — were fearful of concentrating power in the hands of any single person or institution, and most particular in the executive.”
“More fulsome disclosure” of the administration’s legal reasoning “would allow for intelligent discussion and assessment of a tactic that (like torture before it) remains hotly debated,” McMahon wrote. “It might also help the public understand the scope of the ill-defined yet vast and seemingly ever-growing exercise in well over a decade, at great cost in lives, treasure and (at least in the minds of some) personal liberty.”
“However, this Court is constrained by law,” she wrote, and the government “cannot be compelled . . . to explain in detail the reasons why its actions do not violate the constitution and laws of the United States.”
American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer issued a statement condemning the White House for their practice:
“This ruling denies the public access to crucial information about the government’s extrajudicial killing of US citizens and also effectively green-lights its practice of making selective and self-serving disclosures. As the judge acknowledges, the targeted killing program raises profound questions about the appropriate limits on government power in our constitutional democracy. The public has a right to know more about the circumstances in which the government believes it can lawfully kill people, including US citizens, who are far from any battlefield and have never been charged with a crime.”
The ACLU plans to appeal the judge’s decision as the Obama administration claims that the case should be dismissed.
Assistant General Counsel for the Times,David McCraw, issued a statement:
“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. 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.”
People in America are up in arms over a school shooting that took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults, but seeing as many are not as outraged at the millions that are ripped limb from limb from the womb by a paid hit man with a PhD who was given permission by the mother of the victim for a measly $200 for the murder, I guess I should not be surprised when people don’t care about the hundreds of children the Obama administration has murdered overseas, including American citizens, who have done nothing wrong.
While I’m not much for either the ACLU or the New York Times, I do think this is a serious matter in which the federal government assassinates American citizens and then denies information as to why or how they are coming to a conclusion about such assassinations, especially in light of the Sixth Amendment. In addition, it is even more disturbing that current representatives find this behavior to be “Constitutional.”