Saturday, March 23, 2013

Drone Program Being Slowly Dragged Into The Light

In the first judicial blow to secrecy surrounding the Obama Administration’s armed drone program, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has unanimously rejected the CIA’s claim that it could refuse to confirm or deny whether it possesses any records related to drone strikes.

The judges found that public statements about drones from President Barack Obama, former CIA director Leon Panetta and new Central Intelligence Agency Director and former White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan have made it implausible for the CIA to assert that it needed to keep secret the very question of whether it maintains any information on the subject.  “As it is now clear that the Agency does have an interest in drone strikes, it beggars belief that it does not also have documents relating to the subject,” Judge Merrick Garland wrote in the opinion.

The judges did not rule that any specific documents must be made public by the CIA.  However, the CIA will now be obligated to make some further filings with a lower court, describing the relevant records in some fashion and explaining why they are covered by one or more Freedom of Information Act exemptions.

The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer called the decision an important victory, saying in a statement, “We hope that this ruling will encourage the Obama administration to fundamentally reconsider the secrecy surrounding the targeted killing program,” Jaffer said. “The public surely has a right to know who the government is killing, and why, and in which countries, and on whose orders.”.

The judges did not rule that any specific documents must be made public by the CIA. However, the CIA will now be obligated to make some further filings with a lower court, describing the relevant records in some fashion and explaining why they are covered by one or more Freedom of Information Act exemptions.

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