Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, gives a religious lecture in an unknown location in this still image taken from video released by on Sept. 30, 2011.
Ho New—Reuters
April 21, 2014 5:47 PM EDT

Federal judges ordered the U.S. government on Monday to release parts of a memo detailing why it targeted and killed an American who had joined al-Qaeda in 2011.

The order overruled a previous decision last year allowing the government to withhold the documents, which explain the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen three years ago. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the Justice Department “waived its right to keep the analysis secret” after it released a “white paper” justifying the policy of monitoring Americans involved in terrorist activity on foreign soil for targeting and execution, the New York Times reports.

“Whatever protection the legal analysis might once have had has been lost by virtue of public statements of public officials at the highest levels and official disclosure of the D.O.J. White Paper,” Judge Jon O. Newman said. The Justice Department released the “white paper” after it was reported by NBC News.

The government may redact parts of the memo, the Times reports. It is unclear when these will have to go public. The case is a result of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits filed by the Times and two of its reporters, and the American Civil Liberties Union. The government can still appeal.


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