NEW YORK — A federal judge has ruled that President Barack Obama's administration doesn't have to publicly disclose its legal justification for the drone attacks and other methods it has used to kill terrorism suspects overseas.
Two New York Times reporters and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a 2011 request under the Freedom of Information Act that sought any documents in which Department of Justice lawyers had discussed the highly classified targeted-killing program.
The requests followed a drone strike in Yemen that killed an al-Qaida leader, Anwar Al-Awlaki, who had been born in the United States. That attack prompted complaints from some law scholars and human rights activists that, away from the battlefield, it was illegal for the United States to kill American citizens without a trial.
Those demands for documents were turned down, on the grounds that releasing any details about the program, or even acknowledging that documents on the subject existed, could harm national security.
In a decision signed Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon chided the Obama administration for refusing to provide the documents but said she had no authority to order them disclosed.
ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said the ruling would deny the public access to crucial information about the government's extrajudicial killing of American citizens.