Appeals Court Rules Against CIA Secrecy on Drone Program

On Friday, a federal appeals court rejected the CIA’s glomar response (“neither confirm nor deny”) to Freedom of Information Act requests, filed by the ACLU, concerning the CIA’s drone strike program. In doing so, Judge Merrick B. Garland reversed the district court ruling that had dismissed these FOIA requests and reopened the case for further proceedings. In an official statement from the ACLU, Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer remarked

This is an important victory. It requires the government to retire the absurd claim that the CIA’s interest in the targeted killing program is a secret, and it will make it more difficult for the government to deflect questions about the program’s scope and legal basis. It also means that the CIA will have to explain what records it is withholding, and on what grounds it is withholding them.

The ACLU’s FOIA request in question here sought to “learn when, where, and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how and whether the U.S. ensures compliance with international law restricting extrajudicial killings.”

Garland’s 19-page opinion reminds, “The collapse of the CIA’s Glomar response does not mark the end of this case. FOIA contains exemptions, including particularly Exemptions 1 and 3, that the government argues permit withholding.” In short, while the case is open for further proceedings, it is not guaranteed that the information requested will be divulged.

Despite the Obama administration’s rhetoric about transparency, this case is a clear-cut example of how something as contentious and relevant as the CIA drone-strike program is obfuscated by the veil of state secrecy.

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