MANHATTAN (CN) – The U.S. government can redact a fact about its predator drone program believed to have been publicly acknowledged since 2013, the Second Circuit ruled unanimously on Thursday.
The three-judge panel would not reveal what the United States wanted to keep under wraps, but attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union believes it relates to a targeted-killing program in Pakistan, which former Secretary of State John Kerry even acknowledged while in office.
“I think the program will end as we have eliminated most of the threat and continue to eliminate it,” Kerry said in a 2013 interview by Pakistani television.
The ACLU believes that U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon alluded to these statements as an official acknowledgement of the program in a redacted ruling, which prompted the government’s appeal.
U.S. Circuit Judge Jon Newman said McMahon’s finding on that topic was unnecessary.
“Although it was entirely appropriate for the district court, in advance of making rulings on withholding or disclosure of documents, to determine whether various facts had been officially acknowledged, it has become apparent, with the benefit of hindsight, that the official acknowledgement ruling challenged on appeal is no longer necessary,” Newman wrote for the court.
Since 2004, the still-active predator-drone program has killed more than 400 civilians in Pakistan.
It is unclear that the Pakistan program is described in McMahon’s ruling, but if so, an anonymous U.S. government official claimed acknowledging its existence would threaten national security.
“The affidavit of a senior United States official, submitted ex parte and under seal, provides a substantial basis for concluding that public disclosure of both the fact at issue and a ruling that the fact has been officially acknowledged would harm important security interests of the United States,” the 14-page ruling states.
The official’s identity, arguments, and legal filings are known only to the judges and Department of Justice.