A federal appeals court ruled in a decision unsealed on Monday that the Justice Department could continue to conceal internal documents related to targeted killings in the fight against Al Qaeda.
A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit forced the Obama administration last year to reveal a secret memo that authorized the killing of the American-born terrorist leader Anwar al-Awlaki. But the new ruling, handed down in October, makes it unlikely that the suit will yield much else in the way of public disclosures.
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, ruled unanimously that the government could keep secret about 10 documents regarding targeted killing operations against noncitizens abroad because the details of American legal policy and standards on that issue remained classified.
“We emphasize at the outset that the lawfulness of drone strikes is not at issue,” Judge Jon O. Newman wrote for the panel. “This appeal, like the prior one, primarily concerns whether documents considering such lawfulness must be disclosed.”
Judge Newman was joined in the ruling by Judges José A. Cabranes and Rosemary S. Pooler. The litigation was a consolidation of separate Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought by The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union.