The ACLU is suing the federal government for the release of records related to the program of using unmanned drones for “targeted killing” of U.S. citizens overseas.
On Wednesday, the ACLU filed in U.S. District Court in New York to force the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, and the CIA to release records on overseas drone use, in compliance with a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Our government’s deliberate and premeditated killing of American terrorism suspects raises profound questions that ought to be the subject of public debate,” the ACLU said in a statement. “Unfortunately the Obama administration has released very little information about the practice — its official position is that the targeted killing program is a state secret — and some of the information it has released has been misleading.”
The ACLU filed a FOIA request on October 19, 2011 for records “related to the factual and legal bases for the targeted killing of U.S. citizens,” but their request was repeatedly either denied, or a response delayed.
According to the suit, “media reports reveal that at least three American citizens have been killed over the last four months by unmanned aerial vehicles — commonly known as ‘drones’ — on the basis of unilateral decisions made by the executive branch.”
“Although U.S. government officials, including the President and the Secretary of Defense, have made statements on the record confirming the existence of the targeted killing program, the government has not disclosed the process by which it adds names to so-called ‘kill lists;’ the standards under which it determines which Americans may be put to death; or the evidentiary bases on which it concluded that those standards were satisfied in any particular case,” the complaint states.
In 2010 it came to light that Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, had been placed on the list of targets for the overseas strikes. He was later killed by a drone strike in Yemen in September, 2011. Another U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, was reportedly killed in the same attack. And shortly after, in October, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, also a U.S. citizen, was reportedly killed in Yemen.
“The government has refused to release its legal or evidentiary bases for the September 30 and October 14, strikes,” the suit says. “It has not explained whether Samir Khan and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki were killed ‘collaterally’ or were targeted themselves.”
President Obama recently addressed concerns over his administration’s use of drones in an online town hall in January. “I want to make sure that people understand that drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” he said. “For the most part, they have been very precise, precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates.”
The ACLU is asking for the immediate release of the records, and reimbursement for court costs.