The White House rejected FOIA requests from The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union for documents regarding the legal justifications for the alleged U.S. government killing of U.S. citizens and others associated with al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, CBS News reported today.
The First Amendment Coalition has filed a separate suit in federal district court in San Francisco for access to a Justice Department legal memorandum on the subject of targeted killings. Although the Justice Department opposes the FAC suit, it has not yet clarified its legal position or the scope of its opposition.
In a court document filed late Wednesday in New York in response to an ACLU lawsuit, the Justice Department said that “even to describe the numbers and details of most of these documents would reveal information that could damage the government’s counterterrorism efforts.”
The administration said the information requested is “highly classified,” even though details of such operations have been leaked to the media.
Meanwhile, a United Nations investigator weighed in on the drone targeted killings in a story reported by the Guardian, describing the “US policy presents a major challenge to the system of international law that has endured since the second world war.”
Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, told a conference in Geneva that President Obama’s attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, carried out by the CIA, would encourage other states to flout long-established human rights standards.
In his strongest critique so far of drone strikes, Heyns suggested some may even constitute “war crimes”. His comments come amid rising international unease over the surge in killings by remotely piloted unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).