MANHATTAN (CN) - The New York Times sued the Department of Justice for "at least one legal memorandum" government lawyers are believed to have written detailing "the scope of the circumstances in which it is lawful for government officials to employ targeted killing as a policy tool."
Times reporters Charlie Savage and Scott Shane particularly want to see what the Washington Post reported on Sept. 30 as "a 'secret memorandum authorizing the legal targeting' of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who had been killed earlier that day in Yemen."
"Questions surrounding the legality of targeted killing - especially the extrajudicial use of lethal force away from any so-called 'hot' battlefield where United States forces are engaged in active combat - have generated extensive public debate since October 2001, when the Bush Administration first contemplated whether covert lethal force could be used against people deemed to be al-Qaeda operatives," the federal complaint states.
"Most recently, the death of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in September, has kindled widespread interest in - and controversy over - the scope of the circumstances in which it is lawful for government officials to employ targeted killing as a policy tool.
"Given the questions surrounding the legality of the practice under both U.S. and international law, notable legal scholars, human rights activists, and current and former government officials have called for the government to disclose its legal analysis justifying the use of targeted lethal force, especially as it applies to American citizens."
NYT claims, "Both before and after the death of al-Awlaki, NYT duly filed FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests seeking memoranda that detail the legal analysis behind the government's use of targeted lethal force. To date, DOJ has refused to release any such memoranda or any segregable portions, claiming them to be properly classified and privileged and in respect to certain memoranda has declined to say whether they in fact exist."
The complaint adds: "Upon information and belief, there exists at least one legal memorandum detailing the legal analysis justifying the government's use of targeted killing."
A Feb. 11 Newsweek story about "targeted killing operations by the Central Intelligence Agency" quoted "an anonymous government official as saying such actions were 'governed by legal guidance provided by the Department of Justice,'" the Times says.
Awlaki, born in the United States, was "perhaps the most prominent English-speaking advocate of violent jihad against the United States, with his message carried extensively over the Internet. His online lectures and sermons had been linked to more than a dozen terrorist investigations in the United States, Britain and Canada," the Times reported on Oct. 10.
According to the FOIA complaint: "To date, the government has not offered a thorough and transparent legal analysis of the issue of targeted killing. Instead, several government officials have made statements broadly asserting the legality of such actions in a conc1usory fashion. ...
"On February 3, 2010, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair testified to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that 'we take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence community. If we think that direct action will involve killing an American citizen, we get specific permission to do that.'