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Court orders release of secret US drone killing documents

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Today, a federal appeals court ordered the official release of a Department of Justice memorandum justifying the 2011 drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki. The strike was the first targeted drone killing of a US citizen, made independent of the courts system and without due process, so the memorandum stands as the only legal justification for the killing. Many worry that standard sets a troubling precedent as the US drone program expands. The new documents are expected to shed more light on the case.

A white paper from the Department of Justice that leaked last February described the killing as justified if the target was a "senior operational leader of al-Qaida" or an "associated force" who "poses an imminent threat" to the United States. Still, lawyers and activists have been clamoring for more information about the Department of Justice's work on the case. It's still unclear when and how the documents could be made public, but after the latest ruling, it seems likely that the bulk of the memorandum will eventually see the light of day.