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Judge Says Government Can Continue To Refuse To Acknowledge Certain Drone Strike Documents

from the no-hard-truth-left-unhidden dept

Documents pertaining to the accidental killing of two men by US drone strikes in Yemen can continue to remain unacknowledged by the agencies guiding the strikes.

A federal judge has ruled the CIA and Defense Department (DOD) do not have to confirm or deny whether they have records on the “factual basis for the killing” of either Samir Khan or Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who were killed in two separate drone strikes in September and October of 2011.
The heavily-redacted order does contain some good news, however. The presiding judge ordered the Dept. of Defense and the CIA to turn over FOIAed documents to the ACLU that contain "previously acknowledged facts," thus preventing the Dept. of Justice from turning real life into a bizarre fantasy world where previously disclosed information can be treated as though it was still locked up in the agency's "TOP SECRET" digital filing cabinet.

But the obvious downside is this: because the government has been given permission to avoid confirming or denying the existence of the documents the ACLU is seeking, the search for more information on accidental deaths and collateral damage will still consist of issuing speculative FOIA requests, which will then result in more lengthy, expensive litigation.

I'm pretty sure the involved agencies believe they can outlast FOIA requesters, especially if they continue to receive mostly-favorable decisions from judges who place more faith in the government and its assertions about national security than in those who view government secrecy with considerably more skepticism. The problem is that the government has the resources to fight long legal battles. Most FOIA requesters do not.

This decision also further insulates the government from the repercussions of its own actions. By allowing the agencies to neither confirm nor deny the existence of these documents, it gives the government permission to deflect further inquiries into the oversight governing drone strikes -- and what it does when it suspects a strike has killed the wrong people.
If one accepts the government’s claims that Khan and Abdulrahman’s deaths were “accidental,” one at least has to believe the government did some kind of review after the strikes once they recognized two US citizens had been killed. This is what the ACLU suspects.

The ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights have pursued a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the strikes, which killed the three US citizens. And, in this lawsuit, the ACLU has challenged the right of the government to keep information related to their deaths secret.
This sort of information is definitely of the "public interest" variety and should be given more heft when weighed against national security concerns. The American public isn't necessarily supportive of this highly-secret program and considering its complete lack of say in the matter, the least it should be given is the opportunity to more closely examine the accountability process.

Instead, the opinion allows the government to redact much of what it can't Glomar into nonexistence with the most abused FOIA exemption: b(5). Nominally for "deliberative process" documents only, the exemption has expanded to cover almost anything the government doesn't want to (immediately) reveal. About the only way to remove a b(5) exemption is through the courts -- an expensive process with low odds of success.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2015 @ 1:22pm

    More proof our government and us are not allies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2015 @ 2:15pm

    "We can neither confirm nor deny that there are some questions that are too secret to ask"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2015 @ 2:33pm

    What would be the result of the entire government going transparent? If the purpose of law enforcement is enforcement of existing laws and deleting people from breaking the law wouldn't total and complete transparency about what the government is doing (with say a 24 hour delay but otherwise real time) be a great deterrent?

    I know law enforcement would just say, "if the criminals know what we are doing they will do something different," but wouldn't it also be likely that some criminals would just say, "fuck it, I'll just get a real job cuz those cops are everywhere."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Charles (profile), 23 Jul 2015 @ 3:05pm

    A frivolous expenditure of taxpayers money to thwart the efforts of taxpayers. Sweet!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2015 @ 3:23pm

    Meanwhile, hundreds of innocent "savage", "barbarian" or "uncivilized" people were accidentally murdered but ofcourse noone gives a shit.
    Same as with the thousands who are murdered by IS in non-western countries.
    If an american or european dies its news all over but noone cares when the US drops bombs on kids or gives weapons to crazy fucktards like the IS.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 23 Jul 2015 @ 3:35pm


    When they state they can neither confirm nor deny, it means it's confirmed. It NEVER means it's denied. If they CAN deny anything, they do so... vehemently.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 23 Jul 2015 @ 4:14pm

    Well I'm sure that won't be abused...

    So they are allowed to murder people, and then refuse to even admit the existence or non-existence of the reasoning or evidence they had for why they felt the murder was justified at the time.

    Sure glad they've got rules in place to limit collateral deaths, and ensure that only specific targets, with heaps of evidence against them are targeted by drone strikes, otherwise they might accidentally kill innocent people and then try and cover it up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2015 @ 4:25pm

    So another case of ignoring international laws because our might makes right

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2015 @ 4:34pm

    In other words, the judge says that the government can tell everyone to "F*ck off". Actually, it sounds more like President Obama giving everyone the middle finger and ordering everyone to get a life. LOLS Gotta love this transparent president.

    The only thing transparent about the Obama Administration is their ability to shovel horseshit toward the American People.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2015 @ 5:33pm

    How would we feel

    What if some other country started doing this exact same thing here. To us. They devise their own laws that we are guilty of breaking and start sending drone bombs against our "criminals".

    Just think about that for a second.

    This is what we are doing to people that if they are male and above 8 or so, we say were guilty and deserved what they got.
    I do not agree with this.
    If we want to have a war, make it a war.
    A war btw is a specific legal thing that has a real declared enemy not some concept. It also has a beginning, middle and end.
    There is no unlimited secret budget and there are rules we have to follow.
    Some of those rules include the Geneva Conventions.
    This would limit us from doing things like keeping people in jail and torturing them for as long as we want.
    It would also keep the public informed about what is being done in our name.

    This is our country and yet whatever is being done in our name is too inflammatory for the video and documentation to be revealed. The problem there isn't revealing it and letting people react. It was doing those heinous acts in the first place and still thinking we have any moral authority left to do anything outside of our own boarders.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2015 @ 6:05pm

    Oh, please. The government classifies everything in the name of national security. It's become the catch-all for "we want to look at it first" bullshit under the guise that "everybody is a terrorist", every American bloody citizen. It's the people who are paranoid, it's the government. The government is 100 times more paranoid than the people are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bombed in Philly, 23 Jul 2015 @ 8:06pm

    The government does what it wants

    Because they will kill you if you oppose them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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