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Information Demanded on Targeted Killing

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The U.S. public is entitled to more information about government policy on targeted killing of U.S. citizens, including Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a drone attack in Yemen, a civil rights group claims in Federal Court.

The First Amendment Coalition sued the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act.

A U.S. drone strike in September 2011 killed U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki, a propagandist for al Qaida, in an attack that President Obama called a "success" that was a "tribute to our intelligence community."

The San Rafael-based First Amendment Coalition wants to see a 2010 legal memo from the Office of Legal Counsel that allegedly "provided a legal analysis and justification for the U.S. government's targeted killing" of U.S. citizens.

The group seeks "as much of the OLC memo as can be released without harm to legitimate U.S. national security interests."

"This would include, at minimum, those portions of the OLC memo discussing and analyzing legal and related issues concerning the selection of U.S. citizens abroad, for targeting with lethal force," the complaint states.

The public is entitled to know the government's legal reasons for targeting U.S. citizens abroad, the Coalition says.

"Regardless of one's views about the Obama administration policy in the counterterrorism area, the assertion of the power to lethally target U.S. citizens, and to do so unilaterally, without judicial oversight of any kind, is an extreme step warranting as much scrutiny and public debate as are possible under the circumstances," according to the complaint.

The Washington Post reported on the memo at issue in late September 2011. The Post quoted unnamed Obama administration officials who discussed the memo and internal debates about the legal issues behind the drone strikes.

The First Amendment Coalition says it submitted a FOIA request in October 2011, and the Justice Department responded that it "neither confirms nor denies the existence of the document."

The Coalition is represented by Thomas Burke, with Davis Wright Tremaine.

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