Judge says US secrecy in drone killings of its citizens is like “Alice in Wonderland” and “Catch-22”

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Image: AP Photo / Kirsty Wigglesworth
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“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 conclusions a secret.”

Judge Colleen McMahon

The United States government can continue to keep secret its legal justification for targeted drone strikes against suspected terrorists, including US citizens, a federal judge found.

In the ruling, which denies records requests by The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union, Judge Colleen McMahon said her hands were effectively tied: Though the US drone campaign is legally questionable (and widely reviled in the rest of the world), federal law doesn’t compel the government to publicly justify assassinations of its own citizens. That was enough to inspire two literary allusions in McMahon’s introduction to her ruling:

Image for article titled Judge says US secrecy in drone killings of its citizens is like “Alice in Wonderland” and “Catch-22”

Later in the ruling, which was posted online by Times reporter Charlie Savage, McMahon made it clear that she’s dubious of the legal case of targeted assassinations of US citizens accused of being anti-American terrorists. Nevertheless, McMahon concluded, the Freedom of Information Act allows the government to withhold documents that it considers matters of national security.

Though the US mostly targets non-citizens with its drone campaign, in 2011, it killed Anwar Al-Awlaki, his son, and an associate, all of whom were US citizens.