The U.S. Justice Department today in a federal appeals court in Washington continued to press the government's claim that it has not officially acknowledged any CIA role in the use of drones to target and kill suspected terrorists abroad.
A top Justice lawyer, Stuart Delery, the acting head of the department's Civil Division, told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that it should uphold the dismissal of a suit that seeks records about drones and targeted killing of alleged terrorists. A trial judge in Washington earlier ruled against the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued to access records about drones. The CIA has refused to confirm or deny the existence of any documents about drones.
Delery today disputed the notion that statements about drones by President Barack Obama and former CIA Director Leon Panetta amount to anything more than "ambiguous" remarks about the effort to fight terrorism. Statements from the president and Panetta, now the Defense Department secretary, are not "official acknowledgement" that the CIA has participated in drone strikes, Delery argued.
Judge Merrick Garland, who heard the case with judges David Tatel and Thomas Griffith, appeared the most skeptical of the government's position. Garland questioned Delery about whether disclosure of information about drones—for instance, any collateral damage assessment—would harm the national security. Likening the CIA to an "emperor," Garland said DOJ wants the appeals court to find the agency has clothes "even when the emperor's bosses say it doesn't."