March 15, 2013
A federal judge twice considered by President Barack Obama for the U.S. Supreme Court has rebuked his administration over the secrecy surrounding a program of aerial drone strikes abroad, adding to pressure Obama already faced from fellow Democrats.
A ruling on Friday from Judge Merrick Garland in Washington, D.C., capped a week of mounting calls for the release of more information.
The administration defends the attacks as essential to the fight against al Qaeda and other militants in such countries as Pakistan and Yemen. The strikes have at times killed civilians who were not targets, ignited local anger and frayed diplomatic ties.
A Democratic senator confronted Obama about his drone program during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, the newspaper Politico reported, and on Wednesday a lawyer who led Obama’s 2008 presidential transition wrote an opinion piece accusing the administration of wrongly withholding drone-related legal opinions.
Writing for himself and two other judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Garland criticized the CIA for refusing in a lawsuit even to acknowledge the existence of its drone program. He called the CIA’s legal reasoning indefensible and a fiction.
“’There comes a point where... courts should not be ignorant as judges of what (they) know as men’ and women,” Garland wrote, quoting a 1949 U.S. Supreme Court opinion.
“We are at that point with respect to the question of whether the CIA has any documents regarding the subject of drone strikes,” he wrote.
The ruling revived a lawsuit in which the American Civil Liberties Union is asking for records from the CIA. Obama administration lawyers have opposed the suit.
The White House and the CIA did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday. Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said, “The department is reviewing the decision.”