NEW YORK, April 23 (Reuters) - The U.S. Attorney General has
personally asked for more time for the government to file papers
in a lawsuit launched by a civil liberties group seeking the
legal records authorizing strikes that have killed U.S. citizens
In a publicly filed letter on Monday to U.S. District judge
Colleen McMahon, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said that
Attorney General Eric Holder had instructed them to request an
Holder "has personally directed us to seek this additional
time to allow the government to finalize its position with
regard to the sensitive national security matters presented in
this case," the prosecutors - who represent the U.S. government
in this case - said.
"Given the significance of the matters presented in this
case, the government's position is being deliberated at the
highest level of the executive branch," the letter said.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department,
declined to comment on the court filing.
The American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit was filed in
Manhattan federal court in February. It called on the judge to
order various U.S. law enforcement agencies to disclose legal
documents justifying the targeted killings, such as the fatal
drone strike against dual U.S.-Yemeni citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in
September last year.
Awlaki was a suspected al-Qaeda militant. U.S. officials
confirmed that a second American, Samir Khan, was also killed in
the drone attack. Khan had served as editor of Inspire, a glossy
English-language magazine used by the group Al Qaeda in the
Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as a propaganda and recruitment
Reuters reported last year that American militants like
al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive
panel of senior U.S. government officials, which then informs
the president of its decisions.
There is no public record of the operations or decisions of
the panel, which is a subset of the White House's National
Security Council, current and former officials have said.
Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting
out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.
The ACLU said it filed its lawsuit after requests under the
Freedom of Information Act to obtain legal documents were
In recent speeches, both Holder and Defense Department
lawyer Jeh Johnson have acknowledged the existence of the
targeted killing program, and have said the use of lethal force
against Americans abroad would have to comply with several
principles governing the law of war.
Given the speeches and other comments in the media by U.S.
officials about the program, the ACLU has argued the government
cannot be allowed to claim secrecy and security concerns as a
reason not to turn over the documents.
Monday's letter was the second time the government has asked
Judge McMahon for an extension to file their motion for summary
judgment, which was originally due on April 13. McMahon agreed
to postpone the deadline to May 21.
In granting the extension on Monday, McMahon agreed to keep
secret an accompanying classified declaration by James Clapper,
the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, which the letter
said explained the "complexity" of the government's position.
"Believe me, I appreciate the irony," McMahon said in a
handwritten note at the top of the letter, a dry dig at the
government's concern for secrecy in this case.
The case is ACLU v. U.S. Dept of Justice et al., U.S.
District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12-0794.
For the ACLU: Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties
For the Government: Sarah Normand, Assistant U.S. Attorney
for the Southern District of New York.
(Reporting by Basil Katz; Additional Reporting by Jeremy
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