Victory in Court: CIA Can No Longer Refuse to "Confirm or Deny" on Drones

In an important victory for transparency, a federal appeals court today put an end to the CIA's absurd claims that it "cannot confirm or deny" whether it has information about the government's use of drones to carry out targeted killings.

In a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU, the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that "it is neither logical nor plausible for the CIA to maintain that it would reveal anything not already in the public domain to say that the Agency" had a so-called "intelligence interest" in the government's killing program. The ruling affirms the public's right to understand and evaluate the government's defense of the program with information that goes beyond what has been provided through the government's own selective leaks and disclosures.

As ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who argued the case before the appeals court in September, said today:

This is an important victory. It requires the government to retire the absurd claim that the CIA's interest in the targeted killing program is a secret, and it will make it more difficult for the government to deflect questions about the program's scope and legal basis. It also means that the CIA will have to explain what records it is withholding, and on what grounds it is withholding them.

The court firmly rejected the CIA's claims to secrecy about drones, writing that it "beggars belief" that the Agency does not possess documents relating to the government's drone program. Those claims have proved to be increasingly divorced from reality over the months since the oral argument in the case. In February, the chairpersons of both congressional intelligence committees confirmed that they conduct oversight of CIA drone strikes. Also last month, the CIA's new director, John O. Brennan, discussed the government's killing program at length during his Senate confirmation hearings.

It's no wonder, then, that the D.C. Circuit refused to abide the CIA's request that the courts "give their imprimatur to a fiction of deniability that no reasonable person would regard as plausible."

Perhaps most importantly, today's ruling sends a clear message to the Obama administration that it must fundamentally reconsider its position regarding the alleged secrecy of its targeted killing program. As Jaffer put it, "The public surely has a right to know who the government is killing, and why, and in which countries, and on whose orders."

With its preposterous secrecy claim now unavailable to it in court, the administration should move quickly to make public the information the American public is entitled to see.

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Nancy RM

Though it doesn't seem to be part of this lawsuit, it follows logically that the Obama Administration owes the American public full legal and moral justifications for this killing program, if that's even possible.


a court ruling that does nothing to curb the cia's use of drones to murder people for the president - sure the president brags about killing now, but in the future we might demand that he lie to us. like they used to do when the president killing people was a conspiracy we knew was true, but didn't like to talk about. or like rand paul's filibuster - it forced president obama to publicly lie that he doesn't believe he has the right to kill us. we americans are like cinderella sitting on pinoccio's face, begging for him to lie to us again. we can't handle the truth. at least by refusing to confirm or deny, the cia was refusing to lie to us about kill lists the president brags about. this forces em to lie again. what a huge victory.


Thank you, ACLU, for going after all administrations who tell the American people that they are entitled to work in secrecy while they kill innocent people. Bush was wrong, Obama is wrong, and we need to hold them both accountable.


It will not change anything though. Obama will still do what he wants.


It is not only what they do today, but what they are setting us up for in the future that is alarming. We are in the Era of Total Information and Absolute Killing Power. In a matter of weeks, a fascist US Govt could identity, locate, track and kill any segment of the population it deemed unwanted; Jews, gays, blacks, Buddhists, Mexicans, atheists, handicapped, anyone. People would just be dropping dead on the street from "heart attack" or "unknown causes". Microwave, laser and other projected energy weapons mounted on drones hovering out of view at 30,000 feet could easily accomplish this. Everyone is a sitting duck.

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