The New York Times and the ACLU have prevailed in an open records lawsuit to gain access to an Obama administration memo on the targeted killing of American citizens overseas.
According to the Times, the administration decided to release much of the memo in response to an April 21 appellate court order. The Times likewise notes that the release announcement occurred in the face of a confirmation fight over the appointment of the memo’s author to the federal bench.
Public Record Media (PRM) was one of four organizations that sought the so-called “al-Awlaki” targeted killing memo in late 2011, after its existence became public knowledge. In its FOIA request for the memo, PRM also sought additional categories of records, including legal memos regarding the legality of killing individuals in the United States with drones.
PRM later narrowed its request during an administrative appeal, and subsequently sued the Department of Justice (DOJ) for access to records. PRM prevailed in its bid to recover fees associated with its case after DOJ changed its position about whether or not it held records related to the legality of domestic drone killings. In his order, Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur J. Boylan noted that the public could “glean important information” from court filings in PRM’s case, even though DOJ did not produce any records.
Litigation over the al-Awlaki memo has caused a slow shift in the Obama administration’s willingness to disclose details of its drone-related legal opinions. Last year, the White House released a “white paper” summary of its legal justification for the al-Awlaki killing. Once the underlying legal memo has been released, PRM will provide an overview of its contents.